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!

Would you still respect him if… December 21, 2009

Filed under: Writing and Life — Autumn Macarthur @ 12:14 am
Tags: , ,

Okay, I’m supposed to be doing character developement for Adam and Kate, and I am, honest! Though poor Kate is getting just a little neglected.

I’ve spent waaaaaay too long looking at hero photos.

Can’t quite decide if Adam is the boy next door gorgeousness of Steve Leonard-

or the smouldering sexiness of Dylan McDermott-

Tough decision, hey?

At least I know what sort of car he drives and which leg was shattered by the bomb blast. so some progress has been made.

I think Steve Leonard suits Adam best, though Dylan is definitely getting a starring role in one of my stories soon!

But while I was in the bath I got thinking about Luk and Emma, my rejected Presents contest entry (I find it hard to let go of old characters).

I eventually want to rewrite their story as a Sweet Romance. But I wonder if part of the problem (besides the crap writing, crap dialog, and the fact that nothing happens in the whole chapter apart from Luk and Emma talking) is that essentially, Luk’s motivation appears unheroic.

His primary motivation is to avoid  a responsibility- becoming prince of his small island birth country. Heros are meant to shoulder responsibilities, not avoid them!

Does that make him not really hero material?

His reasons, in order of the likelihood of him admitting it to himself or anyone else are-

  1. he has a billion dollar multinational business, that he couldn’t run if he was prince
  2. he doesn’t want to go back to the small town life of the island, especially being with his overwhelming large family again
  3. going back means confronting memories from his painful past- especially his guilt over not being able to prevent the death of his first wife

He’s not completely bunking off from responisbility. When the tragic and unexpected deaths of the other heirs to the throne put him next, he searches for another heir, knowing that the prince who disappeared after the Second World War may have descendants somewhere. And if it was choosing to give up his life and become prince or see his country taken over by a neighbouring kingdom, he’d make that sacrifice. But if making a marriage of convenience with the female missing heir and then leaving her to run the country while he gets on with his own life solves everyone’s problems, he’ll do it.

So, the question is, can he behave like that and still be a hero, or is that just not what a hero would do?


20 Responses to “Would you still respect him if…”

  1. Maisey Yates Says:

    if you play heavily on the fact that it’s his other, self-made responsibilities keeping him from wanting to assume the throne I think it works. Less on not wanting to return to island life, more on he has his own business he built from the ground up and it’s the thing that matters to him and if someone else can do it, why not?

    My opinion. 🙂

  2. Maya Says:

    First off, don’t know who Steve Leonard is, so can’t comment, but even if I did, Dylan McDermott would win, pants…I mean, hands down! I fell in love with him when I saw Jersey Girl many, many years ago, but it was during his stint as the bachelor playboy in Big Shots that I thought he’d be an awesome Presents hero. Beneath all that womansing/alpha boys’ club loving exterior, he had a huge soft spot for his daughter and held a very strong candle for his ex-wife and looked after her even when they weren’t together any longer. His raging jealousy when she started seeing some other guy also made me miss a few heartbeats!

    Now for your dilemma. If you make the motivation for avoiding his responsibility strong enough, then you can swing it. But I’d concentrate more on personal motivation rather than the business aspects as those can be construed as external rather than internal motivation. My 2ps worth!


  3. Jackie Says:

    I agree with both Maisey and Maya. Play up the emotional stuff. His painful past is good. As long as we can understand and sympathise with his reasoning, I reckon you can do it.

  4. waitingforthecall Says:

    Maya, he is yummy, isn’t he? I haven’t actually seen him in any films. Think I would cast him as the bad boy made good type. That glint in his eyes is pure bad boy. Prrowwwww!

  5. It is all in the execution.
    The playboy prince who has no wish to take up his role is a well known archetype. He can be an alpha male without being super responsible in the past. He did not have to be, but now he does. He knows the price he will have to pay as he saw his father pay it.

    Why couldn’t he run the business if he was the ruler — that sounds a bit unbelievable to be considering what Prnce Charles runs with his Duchy of COrnwall products or various Saudi princes. SO this part is much less believable.
    Equally keep it simple — he does not want to go back to the fish bowl existence and problems of a large family who can’t resist keeping their nose out of his business. Do you really need a dead wife?
    COuld it be that he never married as he did not want to put his wife through the gaunlet? Perhaps one of his favourite uncles had a problem with marrying a commoner?

  6. Eileen Says:

    I think Michelle brings up some good points. Then again, if the dead wife is ‘laying it on thick’ that would still be very Presents (I often have moments while reading Presents books where I go ‘seriously? did we need that?’). Anyway.

    I think that heroes can start off as irresponsible (or at least as appearing that way) as long as they grow up and grow into their responsibilities by the end of the novel. There’s a lot of novels out there about princes not wanting to be kings (often b/c they were the second in line to the throne and then a brother died … Kate Hardy, I think, or was that Heidi Rice?).

    Anyway. My point is that your guy does not sound irresponsible — he’s a CEO for crying out loud! — he just has family issues and small town issues and job change issues. I’m certain that he could go back and be crown prince and CEO like Charles but if he were monarch he’d have to at least give up partial control of his company (delegate more) and maybe that’s not how he rolls.

  7. Kate Walker Says:

    I’m going to echo Michelle (partly) But I’m going to be rather more blunt – certainly from a Presents writing point of view

    1. He has a billion dollar multi-national business – so why does he personally have to be at the head of it? Has he not trained anyone else to be capable of running the company? Can he not still own the company and have his CEOs etc report to him/discuss with him? If the future of the company was somehow dependant of him personally being at the helm – which I have to be frank I can’t see – so that his not running it would mean thousands of people losing their jobs/livelihoods maybe – but why would it have to be him?

    2. He doesn’t want to go back to the small town life of the island – has he not grown up? Learned how to handle the family problems? Isn’t he now going to be prince – ie the ruler?

    4. Painful memories – ditto

    Personally I would have a. lot of trouble respecting a hero who didn’t accept his role as prince basically because he didn’t want to. It makes him sound immature and unable to accept responsibility – to me, he is bunking off, no matter what the reasons. Specially if not taking the crown would mean it being taken over by a neighbouring kingdom. Being blunt – why would he feel responsibility to a company – and so some might think – to a money making enterprise – and not to his native land/his country/his family’s inheritance?

    Is there actually someone else who can take on the ruling role or not? If he marries the other heir – wouldn’t he be ensuring that any children he had with her would in fact be put in the same dilemma as he now has – and is dodging out of? If it’s certain that there is another heir, that’s a different matter.

    As both Michelle and Eileen say, heroes who were playboy princes and irresponsible, or fiercely independent when they were younger – and the inheritance of the throne was a long way away from them – are common archetypes – but they are acceptable as heroes if they then realise that their duty has to be faced, when the ‘tragic and unexpected deaths’ of the other heirs leave them next in line.

    If he then says, sorry, no not doing it, for anything but a life or death, terrible conflict then their heroic status would be in severe doubt.

    If however your prince feels a strong sense of needing to do right and act justly by finding the real heir to the throne – thinking that it isn’t right to take on the throne when it is rightfully someone else’s then he is ‘bunking off’ with a motivation that makes him look more heroic not less.

    Take a look at Marion Lennox’s Married To His Majesty trilogy about some similar situations in Romance – or, in Presents Kate Hewitt’s Royal Baby, Forbidden Marriage to see how this theme has been dealt with

    But if I’m speaking personally, I would have a real problem with someone who didn’t ‘step up to the plate’ when not just a company but an entire country needed him and when everyone in that country might be taken over by that neighbouring country

  8. waitingforthecall Says:

    Oh my! Some excellent advice here! Thank you so much everyone!

    Eileen and Michelle, I agree with you, the dead wife may well be unnecessary. I tend to overcomplicate everything and have too many conflicts when as Kate brilliantly says, “Keep it simple, but go deep.” I think what I have done here is piled on more issues because I haven’t explored my existing conflicts well enough.

    Michelle and Kate, the point about “why can’t he be prince and still run his business?” is a good one. This is part of his growth in the story- to recognise that he has held onto way too much control and stifled decision-making in his subordinates, and that he can indeed step back. This is a trust issue on his part, and he does learn to let go and that he can set things up so his business can go on without him needing to be there every minute of the day. He built this buisness up from nothing and has a strong sense of pride and possessiveness about it, it’s how he defines himself at the beginning of the story. So he can’t trust anyone else to “do it right” and this trait is also what gets him to trouble.

    Kate, he semi-“steps up”, but my concern is that it’s still not enough. If there wasn’t another heir, he would take on the role of prince, no matter how reluctantly, to save his country. Clearly I need to bring that out more. But because he really doesn’t want to do this, he sets out to find if there is a missing heir- and finds her, an heir who is ahead of him in precedence, but who still has to satisfy the Council of Elders that she meets the strict criteria for a female ruler (very old-fashioned and sexist- different rules to allow a woman to take the throne!).

    I guess his order of priorities are-
    1. make sure the country’s leadership is secure
    2. avoid this responsibility he never wanted or expected (he was cousin to the previous Prince, so was not brought up with the idea he might ever need to rule)
    3. retain the tight control he has maintained over his life since leaving the island and his huge chaotic overwhelmingly loving family behind

    When he does let his iron control slip the consequences are potentially disastrous. He needs to learn balance, and that family is a positive thing not a negative.

    Hmm, the more I think about it the more I see why this story was rejected!

  9. Minka's Tail Says:

    Here’s an odd question. I am also a loser in the Harlequin Presents contest. I never really paid much attention to that line of books before, but now my interest is piqued.

    They always tell you to “write what you know.” That was the message of Little Women, and it certainly is the way chick lit books are written. (If the author used to be a teacher, her character is a teacher. If she was an editor with a mean boss. . .well, you see where I’m going here.)

    Do the authors of Presents books have glamorous lives? Do they travel around to all these wonderful places so they can write about them? Or is a lot of it just made up, or researched on the web or library?

    I really don’t want to write about being an unemployed teacher laid off in the recession, waiting for a sub call. I don’t know who would publish that, anyway. But I think my chances of having a marriage of convenience to a multi-billiionaire sheikh is very slim (although, if I do, you’re all invited to the wedding!)

  10. Eileen Says:

    Well Jane, when you say it that way he sounds like a much different guy! I guess I’m willing to go with anything you’ve said (in this most recent reply or anywhere else) about Luk b/c I’m assuming that he isn’t going to buck responsibility for the entire novel. He’s rich, he’s successful, he’s trying to fix things back home by putting the heroine in charge which “trying to fix things” is a sort of accepting responsibility even if it isn’t him in charge. Anyway, I’m willing to accept it all because I’m assuming something you’ve never said: that he does eventually go home, live on the island and share the responsibility with the heroine (or support her in her role as ruler b/c you made it clear that she’s ahead of him in line for the throne). I’m assuming all this just like I’m assuming they’re going to fall in love. So my question is: is he skirting responsibility? and if so, for how much of the novel?

    Minka — Yes “write what you know” applies, but not in the literal sense that all Presents authors are married to billionaires and princes. Presents are a type of fantasy (specifically the Cinderella fantasy) and with any fantasy (a romance novel or Lord of the Rings) there are certain elements of the characters’ lives that the author will never be able to know first hand. (I’m rather certain Tolkien never met an elf or a hobbit.) What “write what you know” means is write the emotions that you know, the feelings and frustrations of falling in love. Tolkien (since I’m on that example) didn’t know hobbits and what the relationships of hobbits were, but what he did know was what it was like to be an officer in WWI and he knew the kinds of relationships that formed between officers and enlisted men down in those trenches, and there’s lots of literature out there about how Frodo/Sam represent the kinds of emotional bonds that officers/enlisted formed in that exact situation.

    To bring it back to Presents, “writing what you know” is the romance, the way we tend to deny that we’re falling in love, the way men and women talk to each other. The money, glitz and glam … that’s part daydream, part research, part reading the authors that came before you. And, honestly, if you read enough of one type of novel then “what you know” grows to include that type of novel even though you’ve never lived the events of the novel!

  11. waitingforthecall Says:

    Minka’s Tail, I don’t think I could give a better answer than Eileen has! (Though I would happily read a story about an unemployed teacher waiting for the call too, and I would loooooove to get that wedding invite!)

    I think the Presents writers would love to live those glamorous lives! I don’t know that many, if any, of them do! Maybe a once a year holiday…

    Maisey, who has just been signed for Presents, lives simply in rural Oregon, rarely visits the big city, and hasn’t been further abroad than over the border to Mexico, but has written totally convincing stories that meet the full Presents promise.

    There are lots of ways to get a taster of that glamour even if we can’t have the whole package. Maisey uses just her imagination and some internet research. I live in London, so there’s a little more I can do that costs me nothing but some time. I can’t shop in the expensive department stores, but I can still go in and imagine what I’d buy if I could. I don’t think I’ll ever spend the night in a £10,000 a night luxury hotel suite, but when I had the opportunity to go on a free hotel tour and see inside it, I jumped at the chance. Walking through Mayfair in London, I can daydream about who might live in those lovely houses or apartments, where a week’s rent costs more than a couple of months of my salary. If I had more money to spend on research (*sigh*) I could have afternoon tea in that expensive hotel, dinner in that lovely restaurant, or treat myself to a short break in that glamorous city I want to set my story in. But for now, it’s imagination and internet!

    “What we know” for Presents is what we dream about. “What we know” is our fantasies. The larger than life hero who takes us away from the everyday worries about jobs and money and immerses us in a world of wealth, power, drama, passion, and eventually a happy ever after. It’s the promise of the fairy tale. Tell me your (not quite perfect!) fantasy man and the life he would whisk you off to. What are the sort of big conflicts you and he might need to resolve before you could fully step into that fully happy life together?

    I think ultimately, “what we know” is what feels true to us, what reflects our inner reality, even if our external reality bears little resemblance. Writing what we know is writing the stories that truly call to us, that resonate with us, that we feel “Yes, this is it!”, big-grin hands-in-the-air about.

    The other thing that confuses the issue a bit is- there are two different streams of editorial within Presents. They are clearly separate in the UK and Australia, but not differentiated in the US. Presents are the glam, glitzy internal settings with deep damatic conflict, often with a Mediterranean or Middle Eastern hero. Modern Heat still are deeply emotional but often less dramatic, with a lighter sassier feel, and usually a city setting. If you like chick-lit, this line may resonate more with you. You can get a feel for the differences by going on the UK Mills and Boon site and seeing the differences between first chapters for Modern (the traditional Presents) and Modern Heat. Modern Heat may feel more right for you than Presents, or vice versa.

    And coincidentally- ta dah!- Gill aka Jilly, the Modern Heat contest winner, is having her fab chapter posted on I Hearts today.

    Eileen, you summed up the story exactly! The problem is, I think my premise just won’t work. Because at the start of the story Luk is rich, gorgeous, successful, powerful, but on one level still a selfish immature boy, driven by self-interest. I think that’s why he needed to have married young (traditional on the island) and to have lost his wife after a very short time, to explain why he stayed emotionally in a state of arrested development at age 19!

    His journey is to grow into the fullness of who he can be through the course of the story. I guess the real issue here is- he isn’t a true hero at the beginning, but he is by the end. Can stories like that work?

    Surely ALL heroes are emotionally flawed in some way at the start, and it’s the heroine and the events of the story that challenge them painfully into emotional growth?

  12. Throwing in my 10c worth, I agree with many of the comments here. If you go with the dead wife thing, I think that in order to make that relevant she should have died on the island. That would give him reason not to want to revisit a traumatic event. Could he be feeling some guilt over her death? Was he involved in some way? Could the way he acted have contributed to it and therefore be a reason why he doesn’t want to go back?
    Happy Christmas!

  13. Francine Says:


    I didn’t get through on the comp either, but have made some great friends along the way.

    It was a hit/miss affair for my entry as I didn’t know about it until a week before the deadline.

    Anyhow, back to your dilemma: a character that has it all going for him with exception of inner strife.

    That’s a great premise to start with, because a hero with inner dilemma (I think) is more appealing than one who has everything and little strife in life beyond finding a wife to produce an heir, and or mistress to satisfy desires beyond the marital bed



  14. waitingforthecall Says:

    Sally, that was exactly it. He married young as they do on the island, and she died in an accident he blames himself for because he wasn’t there but he should have been. To make things worse she was pregnant.

    He now has an unconscious belief that he can’t allow people to rely on him or get involved with him because he will let them down. This is also what has made him over involved with his business and stopped him trusting others too- it’s that “I can’t trust myself to do it right so I can’t trust anyone” thing.

  15. waitingforthecall Says:

    Absolutely, Francine. The hero has to have some emotional flaw, some need to change and grow before he can be in a fully committed relationship, and this is what makes the story emotionally satisfying. He may think at the beginning all he needs is a wife for an heir or a mistress to warm his bed, but he soon learns differently!

    My struggle is with what takes a hero beyond the pale and stops him being heroic? My hero is acting from self-interest and a desire to avoid changing his life. Can he do this and still be a sympathetic hero that readers will like?

    Good luck with the next submissions. BTW, for all of us who had the dreaded R!

  16. Francine Says:

    Quote: My struggle is with what takes a hero beyond the pale and stops him being heroic?

    answer: when he leaves his underpants on the floor!

    No, seriously, even a brutal warrior hero has to have a vulnerable spot. Find it and he’s done for.

    i too have a character blaming himself for a death that was not his fault, despite the fact that he was driving the car.

    What man doesn’t act out of self-interest?

    My hubby, all 6’2″ of him is gorgeous, compassionate, giving, but downright selfish in many ways.

    Ha ha, me too, like when writing I don’t hear a thing said!!!


    Give mine a blast if you feel like it.

  17. Minka's Tail Says:

    Thanks for your feedback. I never thought of a romance being closer to Lord of the Rings than a work of realistic fiction, but in a way it is. And I will check out Mills and Boon. You’re right, in the U.S, we don’t have Mills and Boon books only Harlequin Presents. I will check out that website.

  18. waitingforthecall Says:

    Oh, I love it when this happens!
    I’m having to explain Luk’s behaviour too much, so clearly it’s not what a hero should be doing.
    It just doesn’t work for me that his motivation is avoiding responsibility, right until the end. An idea suddenly jumped up and bit me when I was talking to my husband about a friend who worked in an Eastern European country and had problems with all the corruption there- basically, gangsters really ruled the country rather than the government.
    Luk is unaware of how bad things are in his country until he takes the heroine (the missing heir) back to his country. Once he realises, he has no choice but to get reluctantly involved. It changes the whole dynamic of their relationship, but that’s okay. The seeds were there for the new conflict, I just hadn’t seen it. Yay!
    Kate and Adam might be getting their turn next, but that doesn’t mean I’ve given up trying to fix Luk and Emma’s story.

  19. Eileen Says:

    oh exciting Jane! I like the mob/gangster thing 🙂

    I know it didn’t sound like I liked the idea of the dead wife before but I really did (do). I think that if the author can do it right it always adds a really interesting dimension to the hero and it perfectly explains why he’s closed off, hard, angry, uninterested in love (outside of sex, that is) and why he’d be willing to marry some woman whom he couldn’t envision a happy future with: because he sees there being no possible way he can have a happy future with a woman after he failed the first one. I tend to like novels where the hero thinks he’s not worthy of trust even though he’s a fab, honorable, keeps-his-word, protects-whats-valuable type guy.

    What I think you have to differentiate is what he thinks from how he acts. If he thinks women should trust him and he doesn’t want to go home and be responsible, that’s fine — so long as he acts trustworthy and honorable and gets all emotional when crime lords threaten his family home and new wife. And we’ll find him lovable because he acts honorable and trustworthy even though he has a low opinion of himself. 🙂 And in my mind it’s then the heroine’s job to make him realize he’s got his head on backwards. 😀

  20. waitingforthecall Says:

    I love the way you put it!

    That’s it exactly! Whether I can write it or not is another matter, but it will be fun to try come February.

    Now, time to put ideas about Luk and Emma on a slow simmer while I turn up the heat on Kate and Adam ready for JanNo…

    Not much writing possible now until after Christmas, but I want to spend more time with these characters so I feel I know them well enough when I strat writing January 1. Not so well they can’t surprise me along the way though!

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