If I had a mission statement as a
romance writer it would be to give readers an
uplifting, heart wrenching fantasy, while keeping it believable. I’m
a very conscientious about this.
It’s what I require as a reader
and so it’s what I strive to give back. I suspect that readers are not going to
have a lovely feel-good glow at the end of the book if they’ve been muttering
“as if” all the way through it.
So... today I’ll be looking at the
delicate line we romance writers tread between fantasy and reality.
How far you swing between these
two two poles will depend to a large extent on which line you’re aiming for.
Some lines of course, actually create their own fantasy worlds, but in most
romance novels,- we want to give the impression of fantastic, fairytale romance
happening in the midst of real life.
We want to take the reader out of
her every day world, but leave enough realism there for her to feel connected,
so that she can imagine herself as the heroine - so she can experience the
heroine’s emotions and fall in love with the gorgeous hero.
Today I’d like to start by looking
at the two contrasting elements of fantasy and realism separately - First the
fantasy. The thrill of attraction and a once in a lifetime love. What kinds of
characters help to create a romantic fantasy?
In his book
Writing the Breakout Novel, Donald Maas
tells us that truly effective characters are LARGER THAN LIFE.
It makes sense doesn’t it? We
don’t want to read about people who are as boring as we are. We read fiction to
imagine ourselves as we might be.
Now this doesn’t necessarily mean
that you have to make your heroes into tycoons, sheiks or playboy princes and
your heroines into super models, princesses and heiresses - although they can be
any of these things.
There’s no doubt that these types
of characters are very popular. They stem from well known archetypes. And
because these characters can be incredibly rich or beautiful or powerful, they
work well in romance novels. They bring a whole cluster of associated images of
glamour and beauty and power and they come with built-in fantasy elements.
But you can also create fantasy
when you write about everyday, average characters who work in offices or
kindergartens or at home, or in trades like carpenters or garage mechanics.
These people can still make it to romantic fantasy level.
And Donald Maas gives us the clue
to achieving this - by telling us that we need to identify what is
extraordinary in people who are otherwise ordinary.
And these extraordinary elements
often come from the characters’ unfulfilled DREAMS, their SECRETS - their GOALS
or their DILEMMAS.
We can make ordinary characters
fascinating by making them aspire to things beyond our own experience:
- like wanting to work in
- or planning a solo journey to a foreign world to search for a missing
- or a missing anything for that matter
- or a single woman going alone to a fertility clinic
- a female journalist, who had just been sacked, trying to clinch an exclusive
interview with a playboy prince.
As soon as you put an ordinary
character in an extraordinary situation, or give them extraordinary goals, you
have the makings of fantasy.
Characters with secrets can become
characters that are out of the ordinary - which is why secret babies, secret
twins, hidden identities and amnesia plots are endlessly popular in romance
One thing that’s important to
understand is that you can’t separate character from plot. I’ve never had much
time for those character questionnaires where you sit down and decide the
character’s name, height, eye colour, religion, type of car etc. before you
begin to write.
I don’t think these things are
important until you know what your character wants and how she’s going to go
about getting it. It’s how characters react to situations that makes them come
Larger than life characters take
action. They set about achieving their goals or solving
their problems. And this applies to your heroine as much as it does to your
Readers love a character who
strives or struggles to achieve a goal. And characters become especially
fascinating if they are striving to achieve what seems to be impossible.
In one of my books,
A WEDDING AT WINDAROO,
my heroine, Piper O’Malley, is an outback jillaroo
who has lived an isolated life. She’s a tomboy. She’s had very little contact
with world beyond her little valley and she’s very, very ordinary really. But
when her story begins, her grandfather is dying and he plans to sell Windaroo,
the only home she has ever known - the cattle property she loves. He doesn’t
want to leave a slip of a girl with the burden of keeping it going.
Piper is devastated and she
figures that an old fashioned guy like her grandfather would let her stay on
Windaroo if she had a husband to help her run it.
So she has to find herself a
husband. Her problem is that she has absolutely no idea how to start husband
Because she’s lived a very
isolated life in the bush with only a grandfather to raise her, she doesn’t know
the first thing about how to start flirting. The guys in her little valley, are
the same fellows she’s worked with and knocked around with all her life and they
see her as one of them. As she puts it - she has buddy status and that’s all.
So she has quite a battle in front
of her. She’s striving to achieve what seems impossible because her upbringing
and personality are in direct conflict with her primary goal.
So... interesting characters have
goals and they set about achieving them, often against great odds.
Think about the aspects of your
character’s personalities and background that will make their goals difficult to
achieve. We mustn’t let life be easy for them. (At least not till the end of the
It might seem strange, but the
characters’ struggle or suffering becomes part of the fantasy, too.
It’s funny isn’t it, but when we
read, we’re totally absorbed by characters who are experiencing the very worries
that we go out of our way to avoid in our own lives.
When we watch them tackle these
problems heroically, we imagine that we could be that brave, too - if we had to.
Who wants to hear that your
fiancé is plotting to kill you?
Who wants to get the sack?
Or to have your lover walk out
But we do these things and worse
to our characters.
Why? Because we want the reader to
be able to relate to our characters on several levels and we need to make sure
there is a lot more happening in their lives than simply Ms Right meeting Mr.
So we give them problems and we
make sure they really care about these problems. BUT we don’t let our larger
than life characters sit around and feel sorry for themselves.
As I said earlier, we make them
DO THINGS. They act. Even if your heroine can’t actually solve her problem,
she should be getting on with her life, trying to divert herself or her loved
ones, trying to stay positive.
Fantasy characters strive,
sometimes they struggle and most definitely they LOVE...
When it comes to the attraction
between these larger than life characters - the sizzling chemistry - it’s pretty
obvious that one larger-than-life character deserves or attracts another.
There are lots of ways to achieve
this, but I’m going to concentrate only one today - - I want to look at the
attraction of opposites as just one useful tool.
Big contrasts provide ready made
drama. And drama keeps the reader hooked - inside the fantasy.
Think of the dramatic contrast of
black and white.
The very essence of romantic
fiction is the contrast between testosterone and oestrogen, between masculinity
and femininity, between man and woman.
And there are many
attraction-of-opposites stories - rich girl and poor boy (or the reverse),
beauty and the beast, plain Jane and the playboy, country mouse and city mouse,
the expert and the untutored, the lone wanderer and the homebody ... or my
favourite the bad boy and the good girl - (or again, possibly the reverse.)
If the hero and heroine are
different enough they’ll strike sparks. Romances are all about these differences
- two opposites on a journey to becoming two sides of a single whole. For
example, Piper, my jillaroo heroine was untutored - so she needed the help of an
expert in the art of flirtation.
In all sorts of ways the
attraction of opposites provides a ready made recipe for sizzling chemistry and
it also provides believable reasons for conflict.
Because I write a lot of Outback
romances, I’ve tried the city-country contrast a few times, but in my latest
book I pushed this to extremes
Instead of writing about an
Australian city girl on a cattle property, I went for the complete fairytale and
had a runaway European princess in an isolated drover’s hut in the wilds of the
Because she’s running for her
life, she isn’t willing to reveal her identity at first, so she gets no special
royal treatment from the outback hero. He does help to remove the leeches on her
legs, but he expects her to check under the toilet seat for red back spiders and
to kill them for herself.
Writing about such strongly
contrasting characters was great fun, but one of the best examples of the
dramatic effect of contrast that I’ve read is Laura Kinsale’s historical novel
Flowers From the Storm.
In this book the hero is a Duke.
He’s rich and handsome, he likes radical politics and has a fondness for
chocolate... and he’s a rake. In the opening scene he’s in bed with another
The heroine, on the other hand, is
an exceptionally good and quiet Quaker woman, whose religion abhors worldliness
in all its forms.
Laura Kinsale takes the well known
juxtaposition of the rake and the innocent to the extreme, but of course, she
isn’t writing category romance so she has plenty of time (plus a healthy dollop
of genius) to chart the progress of this relationship and believe me, each step
of the way is fascinating.
In addition, her hero has the
trademark qualities of all larger than life heroes - he is DARING... daring in a
There’s always a risk when a
romantic scene is read out of context, but I’d like to read you part of a scene
from this book to show you just one example of his daring. The very sexually
experienced Duke dares to seduce the innocent Maddy right under her father’s
Admittedly Maddy’s father is blind
and he’s busily working away at a mathematical problem - (Somehow he’s doing
complicated higher mathematics using wooden symbols) - but nevertheless, he’s
only a few feet away when this encounter takes place...
So... Maddy’s father is working
nearby and she is pressed against the door... mesmerised by the duke.
He dropped his gaze to the whistle dangling at her bodice. The smile became
cynical. He touched the silver, toyed with it. Then he lifted it and turned it
in his hand. He held the mouthpiece just skimming her lower lip, daring her.
rapid breath made a tiny sound come from it, like the distant peep of a lost
chick. Her father lifted his head, listening.
“Maddy girl?” he asked.
turned her mouth from the whistle. “Yes, Papa?”
think there may be a sparrow in the chimney. Dost thou hear it?”
Jervaulx lifted his arms, resting his fists on the door frame on either side
of her. The chain of the whistle slid and tightened at her throat as he kept
it in his hand. He held her trapped, his smile growing into a mocking grin.”
don’t hear it.” Maddy pressed her shoulders back against the door - incredible
that she didn’t push him away, break free, call out to her papa.
Jervaulx leaned on one arm. He traced the whistle over the curve of her ear,
watching what he did with a fascinated openness. He brought the cool silver
along her chin, warming the metal with his fingers. The instrument grazed an
arc across her lips to the centre of them, and then back to the side; to the
centre, and back again.
leaned forward. Maddy’s breath was singing faintly, unevenly through the
silver alarm. He held it against her lips, his fingers spread across her cheek
and chin. He bent his head and pressed his mouth to the silver, a kiss with
her protection caught and made useless inside.
whistle slipped from his fingers. She felt it bounce against her breasts as
his mouth came to hers. He touched her as the silver had touched her, just a
light graze, but warm.
took modesty and virtue and salvation away from her so easily. She gave it up
OK... THERE IS MORE OF THIS and
the kiss becomes bolder and their reactions more heated...
THEN... when we are quite swept
away, we read...
father sighed and sat back in his chair.”
SUDDENLY we’re reminded that this
whole breathless, silent yet sizzling encounter has taken place right
next to the heroine’s blind father - almost under his nose. (Flowers
from the Storm, pp 118-120)
I found that scene unforgettable.
I was already falling for the hero, but his audacity in the presence of
seriously “good” and pious people made him even more compelling and attractive
So when it comes to creating a
romantic fantasy, I’m recommending larger than life characters, characters with
goals, who act and who dare. And I’m suggesting that you consider using
contrasts between your hero and heroine as a dramatic device that will trigger
great attraction and strong conflict.
Now I’m going to look a little
more closely at ways of ensuring that these fantasy characters and the conflict
that keeps them apart for most of the book - seem credible.
Flowers from the Storm is fresh in your mind I should add that this book
also provides a wonderful example of how fantasy and realism can combine. The
fantastic, bad boy hero has a stroke. He is partly paralysed and has great
difficulty speaking. In the days when this book is set, someone so debilitated
was considered to be mad and he is sent to an asylum where the heroine, Maddy,
nurses him. She helps him on the long journey back to health.
The fantasy lies in the
growing attraction of this rather wicked, rich man for the good, innocent girl.
The realism comes with his illness and Maddy’s spiritual struggles as she
falls in love with this earthly, sinful man.
Laura Kinsale must have researched
this book in amazing detail, to make these historical characters so realistic. I
know that our two Rita finalists Lillian Darcy and Marion Lennox gave a workshop
in Melbourne about research a few years back. They both write medical romances
as well as contemporaries and they learned very early in their careers how
effective research can be in making their characters true to life and
A bonus of research is that
it can provide you with extra story ideas, but also, it can give you the
confidence of knowing your story is authentic. If you’ve researched your
characters and their setting thoroughly, you feel a greater sense of authority
as you write - your work will have the ring of conviction. And your story will
seem more real.
Although I didn’t grow up in the
outback, I’ve spent many holidays camping and canoeing in the outback and
visiting cattle properties, so I felt fairly familiar with the country. But last
year, I wanted to know more about the day to day working life of a cattleman, so
I visited a cattle property near Roma to do some research. I went to the Roma
cattle sales. They’re the biggest sale yards in the Southern hemisphere, by the
way - and I stayed up at night to watch the cattle my hosts had bought being
off-loaded from the road train and yarded. And then I “helped” next morning as
the cattle were ear-tagged, inoculated and branded.
I used every ounce of that
experience in my next book and because I’d been there and experienced it all,
the book flowed almost effortlessly onto the page.
Stephen King tells us that readers
love interesting details about people’s work. Nora Roberts has spoken many times
about how extensively she uses the Internet to research interesting careers for
In her novel
Homeport, her heroine is an archeometrist. Nora Roberts found everything
she wanted to know about archeometry on the Internet. The heroine, Miranda
specialises in authenticating art from the Renaissance period - and in this book
she’s trying to authenticate a bronze believed to have been a lost work of
Of course Nora Roberts doesn’t
overload us with technical details, but cleverly seeds them into the narrative.
I’ll give you a brief example.
“Miranda retested the dirt from the site first, measuring the radiation,
running figures. Once again she tested the clay that had been carefully
extracted. She put a smear of each on a slide, then made a third with the
scraping of bronze and patina, and studied each under a microscope.
was studying her computer screen when the first of the staff began to trickle
in. It was there Giovanni hunted her down with a fresh cup of coffee and a
delicately sugared roll.
me what you see,” she demanded, and continued to study the colours and shapes
on the screen.
see a woman who doesn’t know how to relax.” He laid his hands on her
shoulders, rubbed gently. “Miranda, you’ve been here a week now, and you
haven’t taken an hour to yourself.”
Can you see how much Nora Roberts
has achieved in that short passage? Not only has she drawn us deeper into the
world of archeometry through simple but specific details of the science
involved, but she’s reinforced important details about Miranda’s character as
well - we know she’s an early riser. We see her strength of will and dedication
to this task as well as her tendency to be bossy - and with the name Giovanni
and the brief mention of the “delicately sugared roll” we are reminded that this
scene takes place in Italy and not America.
Layers are being added to this
character - we pick up details about her behaviour, her goals, her interaction
with others, and her setting.
These LAYERS are
another very important device in creating characters. They work in two ways -
they build credibility piece by piece and they gain momentum to create
Another trick to consider
contrasts within the character. It can be particularly effective to show how a
character’s deeper elements contradict the outer layer - the superficial
picture. Robert McKee in his screen-writing bible, Story, gives the example of
James Bond who seems on the surface to be a lounge lizard playboy, but beneath
this he is a thinking man’s Rambo.
In Liz Fielding’s
The Ordinary Princess, her arrogant, autocratic Prince has a gentle and
sensitive heart of gold.
In Nora Robert’s
Homeport the hero is the handsome, rich, highly intelligent owner of an
art gallery in New York - but he is also - wait for it - an art thief. But I
guess only someone with Nora’s formidable talent can turn a thief into a
believable hero. (Unless it’s Anne Gracie turning a heroine into one.)
This hero thief raises another
interesting point - interesting, believable characters are not perfect. They are
vulnerable and they make mistakes. Their vulnerability and mistakes help to
create a sense of realism.
We bring heroes and heroines down
off their pedestals and give them feet of clay. Even Alpha and Ultra-Alpha
heroes have their vulnerable streaks.
In one of my most successful
books, my movie director hero is trying to be ultra macho in the outback, but
he’s not experienced at driving on rough outback roads and he ends up totalling
the vehicle - and launching himself and the heroine into danger. He’s very
foolish - and he admits this.
Later, it’s the heroine’s turn to
make a mistake. The next day when she and her boss are lost and absolutely
exhausted and hungry, he catches some fresh water crayfish for their dinner and
Grace, who prides herself on being clever, accidentally loses their dinner out
of the trap he’d set.
Maybe I’m mean, but I like making
my characters make mistakes. I believe they are more endearing - and they add a
little credibility to the fantasy.
Another important thing to
remember about realistic characters is that they CHANGE. Their story should
take them on a psychological journey. And apart from whatever else might be
happening in the book, meeting the hero or heroine should change them.
Flowers from the Storm, the Duke is transformed by his love for the pure
and innocent Maddy and he realises how shallow his past encounters have been,
while she discovers the power of earthly passion.
The writer’s task is to gradually
transform two very different and conflicting people into sincere and genuine
lovers by the end of the book. And to make these changes realistic, and we
should stage them through the book, so that they don’t suddenly seem to change
on the last couple of pages. And it’s a good idea to signpost the changes - so
the reader doesn’t miss them. You can even have a character stop to reflect on
how he or she has changed.
In my book
A Parisian Proposition, there is an overriding obvious and simple
conflict at the start. The heroine is a career oriented city girl and the hero
is an outback cattleman. And this simple city mouse-country mouse difference
causes Jonno and Camille more than enough problems in the early chapters.
However, their conflict becomes
deeper and our ideas about Camille’s character deepen as we learn more about
her. She isn’t just any city girl, she’s an ultra contemporary and determined to
remain single - city girl. She’s definitely not looking for marriage or
In fact she tells the hero, Jonno:
“... while most girls spend their lives searching for Mr. Right, I’ve spent
the past ten years terrified that I might find him.”
Why is she terrified?
This question WHY is perhaps the
most important question of all when it comes to creating realism in your book.
Why is your character behaving this way? Why does she has certain goals? What
is motivating her behaviour?
If you aren’t asking this
question, you should, because you can be certain your reader will be. And she’ll
MOTIVATION is the secret key
ingredient to creating believable characters.
Sometimes the motivation will be a
recent incident that has caused your character a problem, but often it will stem
from something that has happened in the past.
There is a deep seated reason for
my heroine Camille’s attitude to marriage and families. Her parents were
entertainers (ballet dancers in fact) and when she was little thay travelled the
world dragging her with them through an endless circuit of rehearsals and hotel
lobbies and plane journeys and although her parents danced beautifully together
on stage, their marriage was unhappy - with endless heated arguments and fights.
Camille’s childhood was unhappy and her parents separated when she was in her
teens and this left scars.
Flowers from the Storm the motivation for Maddy to help Jervaulx in his
recovery is her very strong belief that God is calling her to do so.
And there was a reason why
Miranda, the archeometrist in Homeport has become an overachiever. Again, he
unpbringing is the culprit. She has never been able to win the approval of her
hard, unloving mother.
If you provide a believable reason
for your character’s behaviour, you can have them do the most unexpected things.
So I would urge you to give a
great deal of thought to your characters’ MOTIVATIONS and make them crystal
Let’s take an example... Say you
have this great idea for a character who wants to get to the top of her
professional ladder. She’s so focused on her career, she doesn’t have time to be
sidetracked by love.
You have to ask yourself WHY she’s
so fiercely ambitious. It can be helpful to brain storm several possibilities
before you hit on the best reason to fit your story.
Sometimes your character isn’t
aware of what is driving his or her behaviour, but you should know - and the
reader needs to know.
Usually motivation is driven by
emotion. It could stem from
- loyalty... is your character
wanting to please someone?
- morality ... is this person
seeking justice? wanting to right a wrong?
- love ... perhaps a child or
family member is in need?
- fear ... has your character
been damaged by past experiences?
As you think about these, you will
begin to see more reasons why this character is so driven ...
she a single mum who wants security for her child?
she trying to resurrect her family’s good name after an injustice?
she supporting a sick family member?
birth order a factor? - is she the firstborn high achiever?
alternatively, is she the baby of a family where the focus has been on her
older siblings and does she want to surprise her parents?
Your choice should be the
reason that best suits your story purpose. Sometimes you won’t know the
answer when you start writing, but at some point you will need to know it ...
and show it.
Now I’ve been talking about the
heroine, but the hero must be strongly motivated, too. However sometimes, his
motivation can change after he meets the heroine - then he might become
motivated by his feelings for her. We love to see men moved by the unexpected
power of love, don’t we?
A Parisian Proposition, as I’ve explained, Camille has hang-ups about
marriage, but Jonno, the hero doesn’t. He has grown up in the country in a
happy, well balanced family and he expects to marry one day, and because he
wants Camille very much, he pursues her. He pursues her after she returns to
Sydney and then he comes after her all the way to Paris.
And finally, he offers her a
commitment free relationship - no strings attached.
He leaves her a message: “Camille,
I want you. I need you. We can do this any way you like as long as you’re mine.”
And he tells her: “I’m not asking for marriage or babies. Just us. You and me.”
So they have a thoroughly modern
affair. In Paris. (Lucky things)
But I couldn’t let them get away
as easily as that.
I talked earlier about characters
who suffer. When you near the end of your book, don’t be in too much of a hurry
to end their suffering. If you can give them one last problem, you can really
crank up the emotional impact of your ending.
Just when Jonno thinks he’s won
Camille around, an external problem ( a SECRET - something from his past that
even he didn’t know about) comes on the scene - and suddenly Camille realises
that she will lose Jonno unless she confronts her deepest fears.
Can you see why I said earlier
that character and plot can’t be separated?
Story Robert McKee tells us that powerful, realistic characters
make CHOICES - difficult choices. He adds that choices made when nothing
is at risk mean little. Characters become interesting when there are
progressively building pressures that force them into more difficult choices -
and the choice they make reveals the true depth of their character. Perhaps at
this point they have to overcome their inner demons.
If our readers have become
convinced that our hero and heroine are meant for each other, they will be
desperate for them to make the right decision at this point.
So the device of the final
decision or choice can be a very effective way to round off one of your
characters - usually the character who has been holding back for some reason.
It can be especially effective if
that final choice challenges a cardinal quality of your character’s personality.
Memorable characters often have to
overcome a major fear or take a leap in faith or risk losing something very
important. One of my favourite examples of this is Dickens’s
A Tale of Two Cities when Sidney Carlton goes to the guillotine in place
of Charles Darnay.
In a romance, the characters faced
with difficult choices usually risk losing that once in a lifetime GREAT LOVE.
Flowers from the Storm Maddy has to make a huge and difficult choice at
the end of the book between her religion and Jervaulx.
Of course, we know in a romance
what the choice will be, but the trick is to make that moment of decision as
tense and emotion packed as possible.
And to make the choice
As we near the end of the book we
are writing, we have to convince our reader that these two contrasting and
conflicting characters are reaching a point where their sexual attraction is
growing into to love - lasting love. The readers need to be sure that these two
are really meant for each other.
This is the final test of
So it’s very important that you’ve
given the hero and heroine a point of connection that goes deeper than sexual
If you’ve constructed two very
different, contrasting characters, you also need to make sure that they have
aspects of their personality - personal qualities - that meet each other’s
For example in my European
princess in the outback story, the princess has a background of charity work in
hospitals and her particular interest is giving comfort to the dying -
especially to vagrants brought in off the streets, who have no family or loved
ones to support them.
The hero on the other hand has
been grieving for the past three years. He lost both his wife and his baby
daughter in childbirth. He’s buried himself in grog and hard work, and he’s
rejected the well meaning attempts of friends to comfort him.
But it is the heroine, with her
special knowledge and understanding of death, who is able to reach him and to
help him to heal.
This experience of death becomes
their point of connection. And once that connection takes root, they are able to
act on the powerful sexual attraction they’ve been denying until now.
Their sexual needs are
complemented by emotional needs. I can’t remember who said it, but I have a
quote that says: Sexual need bound with emotional need and respect = powerful
And that’s what we want at the end
of a romance - powerful feelings that keep the fantasy in tact right to the last
The final point I want you to
think about is you - the writer. Because you can listen to all the writing tips
in the world but ultimately, your characters are an extension of you. They
spring from your unique personality and your imagination.
To be interesting to the reader,
the characters must fascinate you, too. To have lifelike, exciting characters,
they must capture and seize your IMAGINATION.
One very practical way to make
this more likely is to try to minimise the gaps between writing sessions. I know
this isn’t easy when you have a family and a real job and a real life getting in
the way, but if you can write as often as possible, you stay in contact with
your characters and their world and they develop a momentum that brings them to
Stephen King tells us in his book
On Writing that while a book is in
progress, he writes every day. Every day - even Christmas. (I know - it’s all
very well for blokes- they don’t have to cook Christmas dinner, do they?) King
says that if the gaps between writing are too long, the characters begin to
stale off in his mind and they begin to feel like characters instead of real
For me, it’s important to get
inside my characters’ skin, to be there in the situation, feeling, seeing,
smelling what my characters are experiencing - feeling their suffering.
I think it is perfectly valid to
use any tricks you can to help you let go of your everyday cares and drift into
the imaginary world of your characters. Experiment with what works best for you.
You might find it helpful, as Sherry-Anne Jacobs does, to lie in bed and
visualise the next scene that you’re going to write. Let it unroll like a movie
in your head. Hear the dialogue, see the setting.
I also find it helpful to collect
pictures of the setting and characters to keep my mood and feelings in tune with
the story and its unique atmosphere. I surround myself with these as I work, so
that they are with me as constant reminders.
For a long time I avoided using
music because I thought it would distract me, but I’ve tried it again lately and
found that listening to music (without words - usually classical, because that’s
what I like) - it touches my emotions and keeps me focused - it helps to
transport me into the world of my characters. In other words it enhances my
Now I’m going to shock you,
because I’m going to leave you by saying: Don’t take too much notice of all that
I’ve just said.
I don’t mean that I’ve been
talking rubbish. In fact I try very hard to make sense, and I hope it’s been
helpful, but I think there can be a danger when you go to conferences and
conscientiously take notes that you go home and think, Oh, God - I’ve got to
have more X in my novel and less Y, and I really should strengthen A B and C...
And you can lose sight of your own
voice - your own vision. It’s like the Great Gorgonzola theory of one of
Brisbane’s popular chefs. One evening when a patron was leaving the restaurant,
the manager asked him if he enjoyed his meal and he said “Yes, I had the gnocchi
gorgonzola and it was great, but I would have liked a little less gorgonzola. It
was a bit too strong.”
This was relayed to the chef and
so next day, he reduced the amount of cheese. But you know what happened, don’t
you? That evening a patron complained because the gorgonzola in the gnocchi
wasn’t strong enough.
And the chef realised that he
couldn’t try to please everyone. He had to be true to his own vision.
And that message is important for
writers, too. Read hundreds of romance novels and learn to identify what it is
about them that you love - what kinds of characters fascinate you? What balance
between fantasy and reality works best for you? Listen to all the advice - but
finally believe in your own vision. Because that’s what will make your story
stand out from the pack so your fantasy of being published can become a reality.
All articles copyright
© Barbara Hannay,
not to be reproduced without permission.