Waiting for "The Call"

“Honey, it’s always crap. Every book I write is crap. It’s my job to fix the crap afterwards,” according to Nora Roberts. Well, I've got it half right. Still working on the "fixing it" part. "Trust your characters to be complex enough and to have enough emotional baggage. Force them to make hard choices." Advice from Michelle Styles that might help!

New revision weapons to avoid November 29, 2009

Filed under: Writing and Life — Autumn Macarthur @ 12:51 pm
Tags: , , ,

The Intern has suggested some new weapons of manuscript mass destruction- the Triumph Bomb and the Character Transformation Bazooka. Either of these weapons are baaaaaaaad writing, with the power to kill a story instantly and turn a potentially good romance into a throw-the-book against the wall one.

The Triumph Bomb is the happy resolution, out of the blue and occuring with no effort from the characters. The great moment of revelation where it all suddenly falls into place, the hero apologises for being a badass bastard, the misunderstandings are easily explained away. “That person you thought I was kissing was my cousin, silly, of course I love you,”  or “I thought you were a whore, I never realised you were a sweet innocent virgin, only willing to sell your body to me to save the life of your beloved brother,” so they can have a passionate clinch and all live happily ever after.

Usually preceded by the Character Transformation Bazooka, where without any indication of struggle or signs of emotional growth, the hero suddenly changes completely toward the heroine. This is explained as the healing power of love causing a Road to Damascus type conversion. “The only reason I was a badass bastard was that I was struggling against my overwhelming love for you, my dearest. I just gave up the struggle, and promise I will never ever be a cold hypercritical witholding controlling misogynist ever again. Your sweet love will be all I need.”  Or in the plot driven by external conflict (baaaaaaaad romance writing anyway!), the evil Other Woman says to the heroine, “I lied about him having sex with me on your engagement night. I wanted him for myself. But I see your true pure love for him and I feel ashamed. I know he loves only you. Please, let me be your best friend and a bridesmaid at your wedding.” And they all hold hands and skip off together into the sunset singing la-la la-la-la.

The reason the T-Bomb and CTB destroy the credibility of a story is they can feel so random, so unexpected. The pat resolution that easily solves all the problems that kept them apart the whole book, the unearned happy ending? They just don’t work unless we’ve shown the characters struggling, in the process of changing and growing, trying and failing. Characters need to work for their happy endings. They need to put in the emotional work to make a real loving relationship and commitment believable and achievable. One character may only see the end result of the process, making it seem like a sudden change to them; but the reader needs to be in on it, needs to know there a process of change going on somwhere, or at least the potential for change. Otherwise they just aren’t going to buy it. We have to see proof of the emotional change, not just be told there’s a change.

So, when I’m revising Luk and Emma’s story,  I better watch out for the weapons of manuscript mass destruction. Am I showing them both struggling with their emotional conflicts and relationship blocks, so the ultimate surrender to love  and idea these two can have a future together is believeable? Do they both grow and change enough to earn their happy ever after? And do they show proof of how they’ve changed, not just say they have?

I realise I’m half guilty of using one of these. The resolution just isn’t strong enough. We see Luk’s struggle and understand what motivates him to go back to Melusia, back to Emma, so the reader can believe it. But the bit I’ve left out is- why should she believe it? That’s what I need to work on.


10 Responses to “New revision weapons to avoid”

  1. […] This post was Twitted by JoanneCleary […]

  2. Maisey Says:

    LOL! Great post, Jane! I’m sure I’ve been guilty there…And I’ve certainly read them!

  3. Jackie Says:

    Excellent post! Going to get evangelical here now and say that they can’t just talk about their change, they need to show it too – by taking action. Which is what you’re talking about re proof. My characters used to talk endlessly to each other about it, and introspect about how they’ve changed, but it’s the action they take that shows the proof.
    If Emma needs to believe he’s changed, how does he show her? He can’t just tell her. As you say, she needs to believe it. He needs to do something to prove it to her. Which is what sometimes stumps me… 🙂

  4. waitingforthecall Says:

    Yeah, I’ve read them too, Maisey. Both are staples of old skool romance, aren’t they? Definitely don’t want to go subbing one now!

    At least being able to write hero POV helps show his change process. I grew up on romances with only heroine POV. The hero would be horrible to the heroine all the way through, then on the second last page sweep her into his arms and explain how it was just because he loved her so much. Eeep! And we’re meant to believe they live happily ever after?

    We expect a bit more from our heroes these days!

  5. waitingforthecall Says:

    Jackie, your evangelical metaphor is spot on! That’s exactly what I was thinking of.

    My heroine’s been reasonably sassy and feisty all through the story, she’s not going to suddenly melt into his arms just because he says he’s sorry. He’s gonna have to prove it to her through his actions.

    Now one way he does that is to come back to her in the helicopter he’s bought for her charity (long story!). But she’s mistrustful of public gestures. This could just be another publicity stunt.

    She doesn’t ask it of him, but the thing that convinces her is that he’s willing to kneel before her. This proud Alpha male is willing to hand all his pride and power over to her, and that’s the one thing that convinces her that it’s safe to finally surrender all of herself to him in return.

    Well, I hope it’s going to work! I’m still editing chapter 3 right now, in fact Luk hasn’t even arrived at the ball yet and it looks like Emma is going to have to make a duty marriage to a different prince.

    So their HEA is a long way away.

  6. Maisey Says:

    I love that, Jackie. Right on, as us evangelicals would say. (true story, I could give a lesson on Christianese) Anyway…

    Jane, so true that she won’t just melt into his arms if she’s been feisty. The heroine’s seem to have serious head transplants sometimes. That was why with my sub it was important for me to show my h not abandoning her career ambitions entirely. And it’s important that Emma make Luk work for it!! Because hey, after all, we expect more from our heroes these days, as you said.

  7. waitingforthecall Says:

    I think you got the balance right for Elaine with the last revision. Fingers crossed, anyway!

    Emma will want to melt (she’s pregnant and so first trimester hormonal, as well as in love) but I do need to make sure she makes him earn his reward.

  8. Eileen Says:

    eep! I just saw both these weapons of destruction used in a made-for-tv movie … so unsatisfying. Up until the last ten minutes of the film the heroine is standoffish of the hero AND she’s going around yelling at people because they’re talking about how much more they like the “new” her than the “old” her … only due to unexplained memory problems she still thinks she’s the “old” her. Then BAM! she’s making out with the hero and WHAM! end of film.

    I LOVE the internal emotional struggle and love for it to drag on and for the characters to question themselves and their actions and theis assumptions to the point where it’s almost painful (so juicy) which is why the shorter series novels are almost too short for my tastes. I could def read another 50 pages of mental torment and be one happy camper 🙂

  9. waitingforthecall Says:

    The struggle and emotional torment first is definitely what makes a good story. One of my writing group used to work in a bridal shop, and was telling some of the lovely “how we got together” tales she heard there. They made me go all gooey and “Aw, sweet!” but they weren’t stories. I guess overcoming conflict or growing and changing in some way is the difference between story and vignette.

  10. waitingforthecall Says:

    Eileen, you might find Carina good to sub to and to find things to read. Sounds like what you are describing – Presents level of emotional intensity but around 70,000 words- is something they would be very open to.

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