I usually work at writing conferences. Now, you're never too published to learn, and I'm often totally jealous of the conferees who get to go to all the workshops because I want to learn, too! I just get so busy talking to people that I never even look at the schedule unless I'm checking to make sure I'm not late for my next appointment.
Well, last conference I attended, my friend Dana happened by me in a moment of down time and said she was on her way to Hillary Manton Lodge's romance workshop. I gasped, jumped up, and followed her. I've known Hillary for some time now. She is a fabulous writer. Her books make me laugh. And she's funny in person too. Her workshop was titled Writing Romance That Works and she's given me permission to share some of the class with you all here on the blog. Get ready to take notes, those of you who need tips on writing romances. This is good stuff.
Together at the Table, Reservations for Two, and the INSPY Award-nominated A Table by the Window. A graduate of the University of Oregon’s School of Journalism, Hillary discovered the world of cuisine during her internship at Northwest Palate Magazine. When not writing books, blogs, or Facebook posts, she enjoys experimenting in the kitchen, watching foreign films, attending indie concerts, and exploring her most recent hometown of Portland, Oregon. She shares her home with her husband, Danny, and their Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, Shiloh and Sylvie. Visit her online at www.hillarymantonlodge.com.
It can be really difficult to get two characters to kiss sometimes—and have it make sense in your book! So I had to really sit down and think deep thoughts about romance and plot and structure.
Romance hinges on character. Unless you have characters that your readers love and are are attached to, any romance between them will ring false. Readers won't care whether or not the characters fall in love.
Successful romance lives at the intersection of plot and character.
Here are four elements that I reach for when I am building a character. Your female and male characters BOTH need each of these elements, and they must match each other's well.
Altruism - This is a moment of selflessness or goodness that tells us this character is worth caring about. This is the Blake Snyder Save the Cat moment (for those of you familiar with that concept.) It's a moment within the first act where your character does something out of kindness or goodness that makes the viewer/reader like him. Let's look at Doctor Who. The most recent doctor played by Peter Capaldi didn't do very well with fans his first season out. Grouchy doctor just didn't appeal to viewers by itself. The writers neglected to give him a Save the Cat moment, and because of that, they had some of the lowest ratings ever that season. They course-corrected in the next season with a storyline that forced the Doctor to make a tough choice. Will he save a child who will grow up to be his enemy? He did. And for the rest of the season, he was known to say, "I'm the Doctor, and I save people." This gave him altruism, which also saved his character and increased the show's ratings!
Damage - This is the damage or hindrance that keeps the character from realizing her goals. This is not simply a flaw. This is deeper than a flaw.
Anne Shirley is an orphan. There is a stigma there that she strives to overcome. Orphans put strychnine in the well. You can't trust an orphan. They amount to no good, etc. Lizzie Bennett is a poor woman with an embarrassing family. She has no dowry. Her life situation causes her damage.
Goal - What your character wants. This may not be what your character needs. Think about the show Parks & Recreation. The show is all about a woman who wants to build a park. Leslie Knope wants to fill in the pit in front of her friend Anne's house and build a park. The show is about so much more than that, but building that park is Leslie's goal, and she keeps coming back to it again and again.
A Superpower - This is a thing for your character to be good at, a way for her to contribute. Creating active characters doesn't happen by accident. One great way to put your character in the center of the activity (the plot) is to give her something to be good at.
Katniss Everdeen is a great example with her hunting skills with a bow. She is skilled enough to succeed in the Hunger Games. Anne Shirley has her imagination, which helps her navigate her broken life. Lizzie Bennett has her wit, humor, cleverness, which makes her situation in life much more bearable.
So, if you combine Superpower + Damage = that will give you an INTERESTING character.
Add a character's Goals + Altruism = and that makes them WORTHY of reader's attention and the attention of the romantic interest.
Combine Interesting + Worthy + Active (the character being an active part of the plot and making choices that lead to a plot resolution) = a COMPELLING character
Breaking It Down
While You Were Sleeping
To show you how this looks, here is a breakdown of Lucy and Jack's four elements. If you haven't seen this movie, you must. It's a lot of fun. It's also one of my (Jill's) absolute favorite movies, ever. I just adore it. It's so well done.
LucyAltruism - Lucy quit school to take care of her dad (who had cancer). She now works at the subway station, the result of having given up on school.
Damage - She lost her father and has been alone ever since. She has no family, except for a cat.
Goal - She might sit in a subway booth every day, taking tokens, but she dreams of going to Florence, Italy someday and even has a passport in her pocket, just in case. She also dreams of Peter.
A Superpower - From the outside, it looks as though she has nothing, but the loss of her father made her empathetic. She is kind to all people, even annoying people. She works holidays. She even puts up with Joe Jr. Her superpower is her kind heart. It also gets her into trouble later.
Altruism - Jack is the good son. While his brother Peter went off to college and became a rich and successful lawyer, Jack stayed in the family business of buying furniture from dead people.
Damage - He has lived his whole life in his brother's shadow and has allowed his loyalty to stop him from pursuing his life goals.
This works great in the movie because their needs fit what the other person has to offer. Jack has a large family that Lucy so desperately wants. Lucy is the nice girl that Jack has always looked for. She encourages him in his dreams. The only problem is, he thinks she's engaged to his brother (who is in a coma)! So typical for Jack. Only, Lucy has a secret! She's not engaged to Peter. A nurse was mistaken when she told the family that news, and Lucy was too nice to set everyone straight.
Here is a list of romance rules to help keep your fictional romance on track so that readers will be rooting for that happy ending.
Romance Rule #1: The two love interests must deserve each other.
Romance Rule #2: The romance much benefit both characters. Each one has something the other needs.
Romance Rule #3: We must believe the love interests want each other. Give us some mushy, gooey chemistry. Readers need to see interest spark from the start.
Romance Rule #4: The romance must have believable obstacles. Take Pride and Prejudice for example. Some obstacles to Darcy and Lizzie's love are: Darcy's attitude, the Bennett family's financial state, Lizzie's crazy family, Caroline Bingley's interference, Mr. Collins, Darcy being sort-of promised to Lady Anne de Bourgh, and of course Wickham's machinations.
Romance Rule #5: The romance must be paced with care. Make sure something is happening throughout the story. Don't just have two characters randomly falling in love at the end.
Romance Rule #6: At some point, the reader must lose hope in a happy ending. This is to set up the emotional payoff at the end.
Romance Rule #7: For an emotionally satisfying ending, the end must make up for the pain.
Remember: Readers Want To See . . .
Characters they love, who fall for each other, who almost don't make it, but come out on the other side stronger and more together.
To thank Hillary for sharing her wisdom with us, we're giving away a copy of her book A Table by the Window. Enter on the Rafflecopter form below. This giveaway is open to anyone in the world, but only entrants in the USA are eligible to win a print copy while an international winner would receive a digital copy due to shipping costs.
The youngest heir to a French-Italian restaurant dynasty, food writer Juliette D’Alisa has spent her life negotiating her skill with words and her restaurant aspirations. When her brother Nico offers her a chance to open a restaurant together, she feels torn—does she really have what it takes? Should she risk leaving her journalism career?
After the death of her grandmother, Juliette discovers an antique photograph of a man who looks strikingly like her brother. As the truth behind the picture reveals romance and dark secrets, Juliette struggles to keep the mystery away from her nosy family until she can uncover the whole story.
Inspired by her grandmother’s evolving story, Juliette resolves to explore the world of online dating. To her surprise, she finds a kindred spirit in Neil McLaren, a handsome immunologist based in Memphis, Tennessee. With a long-distance relationship simmering, Juliette faces life-shifting decisions. How can she possibly choose between a promising culinary life and Neil, a man a world away in more ways than one? And is it possible her Grandmother’s story can help show the way?
What's your favorite recipe that you cook on your own? Any kind of food counts. Answer in the comments.