So I’m awake at 1.30am Boxing Day morning. Don’t want to be. My husband and one of the cats are snoring with varying degrees of quietness by my side, but I’m struggling with a sinus headache that the painkillers don’t seem to touch. Plus a couple of characters who won’t sit to one side quietly and let me get going with another story.
Luk and Emma are demanding that I have another try at giving then their happy ever after. It feels like they are going to keep nagging at me until I do it.
I don’t want to be one of those never-to-be-published writers who keep rewriting the same sorry story for years, refusing to move on to something new. I do want to keep trying to get this story right though. This is supposed to be my “learning story” , and I really want to crack it. One more try is all it gets.
The clues should have been there. Like that post a few days ago that was supposed to be about Adam, my new hero, but morphed into a discussion about Luk. Like Luk staying put, smiling that killer smile of his, telling me he can change if I want him to, he’ll be whoever I want him to be.
I’m just not ready to let go of these characters yet. The plan was to have a break, first draft a different story during January, then come back to them fresh in February. That would be sensible. But I’m thinking about Luk and Emma far more than Adam and Kate. I want to go straight onto working out what doesn’t work and another rewrite.
My biggest problem is that form rejection. I have no idea what is wrong with the story.
Is it that my voice just isn’t right for Presents and I need to target another line, but the premise isn’t bad? Is it that my hero just isn’t heroic enough, his motivation is all wrong? Is it that my heroine is too weak, too pathetic and sorry for herself? Is my plot too convoluted, and my characters forced to shape themselves to fit it, rather than the other way around? Is there too much sexual arousal (even though the only touching in that first chapter is a brush of hands) and not enough genuine emotion? Do those things I thought were clever, actually work against the story because they are a form of authorial intrusion pretending to be the heroine’s thoughts, that drag the reader out of the flow? (Okay, I already know the answer to that one!)
Or all of the above?
I know for sure that not enough happens in the first chapter, they sit and talk for most of the time, and there’s a lot of introspection, with not enough physical beats. Even though what they are discussing is crucially important to them both, it goes on too long. Something I see in Susanna’s winning Presents chapter that’s not in mine, and would have grabbed the editors- there’s a lot of story being told and shown, and a lot of physical and emotional action.
I know that Luk’s behaviour and motivation needs a lot of work. Even if his initial motivation remains to avoid taking on the additional responsibility, he needs to grow up a helluva lot faster than my original premise called for. I feel that Emma isn’t a truly sympathetic character yet either. She’s telling the reader things in her internal monologue that could come across as “Poor little me”, or too self-conciously aware to be believable. Maybe she needs to be more the character she was in the very first draft, who even had a different name.
So- Luk’s motivation needs to be different- more noble, less self-serving. At the very least, he needs to have better and more obvious reasons for his reluctance to go back to the island. Though maybe as Eileen suggested in a comment on the last discussion of this, it doesn’t matter if his motivation is less heroic, so long as his actions are. Emma needs changes too, needs to be feistier, more of a fighter than a victim. I’m not convinced by the way she was in the first chapter that she could make a good princess.
I’m seeing how the opening chapters and a few key scenes can change to work better. Island politics are going to be more complicated than they looked on first appearances (I need to be careful not to turn this into a poor copy of Marion Lennox’s Royal Marriage of Convenience, which I read when I was looking to see how other writer’s managed similar themes).
The conflict, especially good strong relationship blocks, need a lot more development. Luk not wanting to stay on the island longer than he has to to keep the country safe, and his belief he can’t be a good husband, just doesn’t feel deep enough. And Emma doesn’t have a good relationship block right now. Her low self-esteem makes her see herself as unlovable, but it wouldn’t take much to get over that. Her success in her new role as princess works a lot to build her self-belief. So somehow Luk’s behaviour needs to feed powerfully into that particular self-doubt in some way. It needs to come from within the relationship. I have loads of ideas for external stuff, from scheming PR people to paparazzi photos, but that’s not going to cut it!
The rewritten story will be a Romance, not Presents. Another issue with my competition entry was that the tone wasn’t Presents. but it wasn’t Modern Heat either. I think the Romance voice may be more natural to me. Still a massive challenge, to bring out the sweet magic of falling in love, the emotion and yearning for each other, the heartbreak of feeling it can’t possibly work out, without relying on dramatic sex and sensuality.
Would you do me a favour please? Here’s my competition synopsis. I know it’s weak and corny in places. The story was rejected, so I’m not going to be precious about it! Shred it for me. Tell me what you think doesn’t work, what needs to be stronger, what doesn’t ring true for you.
The last thing billionaire Luk di Aquilegia wants or expects is to find himself in line for the throne of the Principality of Melusia. He left the Mediterranean island years before, and has no intention of returning. But when a series of tragic deaths wipe out the Royal family, he may have to choose between loyalty to his country, and his jet-setting lifestyle. Then he discovers there is another heir, unsophisticated Emma Constantin, living in a quiet English village. All he has to do is persuade Emma to become princess. That should be simple enough.
Except Emma’s not so sure she’s princess material. So what if the only excitement in her life is in the romances she reads to Alice, the elderly lady she cares for? She can’t just drop everything and go off with a stranger, no matter how gorgeous, can she? But Luk is not taking “No” for an answer. Emma is swept off her feet and onto his private jet.
Luk takes her to Melusia and returns to London, his problem solved. The island and its people entrance Emma, she finds projects to work on, and a makeover gives her confidence. When Luk returns to Melusia for the Ball to welcome the new princess, Emma has changed. She’s sweetly sexy in a naïve way that arouses and frustrates him. Getting involved with the virgin princess is definitely a bad idea. One impulsive kiss gets them into even bigger trouble.
The kiss was seen, and Emma is now ineligible to be Princess under the strict laws about female Royals. Luk is back where he started, faced with being Prince. He sees one way out- if he marries Emma, she will be the ruler. He can go on with his business and living his own life. A marriage of convenience, on his terms, is his best option. Now he just has to convince Emma of that… before parliament meet and declare she cannot be crowned.
Emma knows this can’t be a marriage in name only- there must be an heir to secure the succession. Can she deal with sex without love? Reluctantly, she agrees. A wedding and a coronation – one ceremony changes Emma’s life forever as she becomes both princess and wife. That night, things change even more as Luk fully awakens her to sensual pleasure.
Luk is startled by how good sex with her is. Emma arouses his passion and emotions like no woman ever has. That bothers him. Love wasn’t part of his plan. At twenty, he was unable to save the life of Bianca, his first wife. Love to him means pain and guilt. He never wants to feel that way again. He has a built in safety net. After the month together they agreed on, he will go back to London, to return for only a few days each month, until she’s pregnant.
Emma is breaking the rules of their marriage. She’s in love with her husband. Her harsh upbringing has made her believe she is unlovable, and she’s convinced Luk will never love her. As the date of his departure nears, she is hiding a secret. She hasn’t told him she has already become pregnant, fearing he will leave sooner. The night before he is due to go, Emma makes the biggest gamble of her life. She tells Luk she loves him, testing him, hoping he will stay. But he leaves her alone in her room, and departs the next day as planned. Luk finds he misses Emma more than he thought possible. Now he has his freedom, he realises it’s not the most important thing. His life is nothing without her, family and relationship are what he really wants. Then Emma emails and tells him she is pregnant, that he needn’t bother coming back, as he’s kept his part of their marriage deal. Knowing Emma is expecting his child deepens Luk’s feelings for her. But can he allow himself to love again? Can he be a good husband and father, after the way he failed Bianca?
Emma is determined to carry on without Luk. At least she will have his child to love. That won’t make up for the lifetime of lonely nights ahead, but it will help. And she has work to keep her busy. Like her air ambulance scheme. When the helicopter lands in front of the crowds at the opening ceremony, Luk gets out, and reveals he’s the mystery donor who’s made it happen. But why is he there? Is it just a feeling of responsibility towards her now she’s pregnant? Or even worse, a publicity stunt? She can get along without him, if he’s there for the wrong reasons. She wants all or nothing from Luk. If he doesn’t love her, he can go.
At last they are alone together. Luk tells Emma how much he missed her, how he hasn’t been able to stop thinking of her while they’ve been apart, and why he resisted falling in love with her. He kneels before her, the princess of his heart, and asks her again to be his wife. A true wife, in a real marriage for the best possible reason- a love that will last forever.