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!

Luk and Emma stuck in transition June 7, 2009


I finally got them into bed together, and boy, these two are loving it! The problem is, I seem to have got stuck in the bedroom. I need to somehow get through the three week honeymoon, and on to where things start to unravel for them.

I’m at that turning point in the Hero’s Journey where The Reward becomes The Journey Back. Something needs to change to impel them back into movement and action, which will inevitably lead to the Black Moment. I have a good idea what will trigger the change, but just don’t seem able to write the darn thing!

Several reasons-

  1. I am lousy at transitions. always have been. I can understand why newbie writers create 150,000 word epics. It’s easier to write in everything that happens than write a smooth transition!  Solution for that is going to be to just write any crap that gets them into the next scene in as few words as possible, and hope I can straighten it out in edits.
  2. I’m not convinced the motivation for the characters’ actions are going to strong enough to be believable and sympathetic, especially Luk. He has to do something that could appear highly unheroic, so he has to have good reason to behave that way. The motivation I had for him that seemed good enough when I was planning the story just wasn’t feeling right anymore. The answer there was to dig a bit deeper into his character and background to find out why he would choose to act like that. What I came up with was unexpected and changes his backstory quite a bit, but makes a lot more sense. Hopefully it will also make his choices when Emma triggers a crisis believable and acceptable.
  3. The toughest one of all. I like these characters. I’m so happy writing their love scenes. I don’t want to send us all out into the painful wilderness of the Journey Home and the Black Moment, even though the only way to our Happy Ever After is to get them through it. Writing this stuff is going to hurt. I will have to deal with pain and betrayal and people confronting their deepest held limiting beliefs. It is most emphatically NOT going to be fun. Don’t have a solution to this one. So far, I’ve procrastinated. I’ve read a couple of stories. I’ve done some work on this blog. I’ve signed up for an online workshop (Plot Doctoring- think I may need it when it comes time to edit! But I was also kinda hoping that wanting the first draft finished before I start the workshop would give me an extra push). I’ve visited lots of discussion groups and writers’ websites, kidding myself that reading about writing is almost the same as writing, so I don’t have to feel guilty about not writing. Because the other stories I’ve completed or nearly completed weren’t structured right for series romance, I’ve never had to do this before. My stories just meandered on to a HEA. I know the answer is just to take a deep breath, dive into the deep water, and hope I can swim. But sheesh, I really don’t want to!

“Progress” update May 24, 2009

Filed under: Writing and Life — Autumn Macarthur @ 12:08 am
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That word progress in the heading is in quote marks because it feels more like lack of progress this week!

The word count is moving  upwards, even if at a crawl pace at least it’s moving, and I’ve written something every single day. That’s the good news. The bad news is, I feel like I’m floundering. The story seems to have lost direction. I think this is the mid book slump, aka saggy middle, it’s just taken me 47,000 words to get there. That many words, yet I’m only about halfway through the story arc. This is going to need one hell of an edit!

I feel like the conflict is too weak, my hero’s motivation and heroic qualities aren’t coming across clearly enough (no, Luk, being gorgeous and rich is NOT enough!), and I’m in confused whose point of view I should be in when the scene will have equal emotional impact on both characters. The tone is patchy and variable, and the dialog and character behaviour is inconsistent, depending on what mood I’m in that day.

None of these are problems that can’t be worked out in the edits. The biggest problem is my self-doubt and that overactive internal editor of mine switching on at the wrong time.

I’m in the middle of writing the big first sex scene. and I’ve stopped and pulled back, leaving them dangling! This is a scene that will be earth shattering for both of them. Emma loses her physical virginity, but Luk loses his emotional virginity.  The emotional impact on both of them will be equal. But instead of writing it, I’m fretting about whose POV I should be in. Sheesh, what planet am I on? I keep telling myself I need to just write the scene, already, and worry about POV when I edit… and edit… and edit some more…

Problem is, that’s not working.

Maybe the truth is, I’m sabotaging myself. I do want this story to be publishable. But I’m not comfortable with the thought of revealing this sexual writing. I’m so identified with these characters, it feels like opening the bedroom door and inviting the neighbourhood in to watch me make love. It’s safer and more comfortable to step back and go into critic mode and focus on something technical like point of view that get into the reality of opening up to allowing intimacy and deep emotion with these characters.

Hmm, interesting. This is Luk’s character flaw, his main growth challenge. His driving force is staying emotionally safe by keeping people outside a wall he’s built around himself to avoid pain. I knew I was putting a lot of me into Emma, I didn’t realise I was doing the same with Luk too. My difficulty with this scene is the same as his. That’s a useful thing to know. It could help me get through this discomfort and write the scene, and also be something I can draw on to make Luk more real.

Tomorrow I’ll find some nice dark comfortable cupboard to lock the internal editor in, maybe throw in a few cushions and some magazines to keep her occupied, so I can just write and write and write this scene. It won’t be perfect. It won’t have the texture and depth and emotion I want it to have. And I need to find a way to be okay with that, to allow my first draft to be first draft. To trust that if I can get the story down, those things can be layered in during the edits.

Trust, relinquish control, let down the emotional barriers. Luk’s journey as a character needs to be my journey as a writer too.


More thoughts on The Hero’s Journey- the Ordeal and the Black Moment April 6, 2009

Filed under: Writing and Life — Autumn Macarthur @ 6:28 pm
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Um, I’m just thinking as I write here so it may not make sense or be just plain stupid, but it seems to me that the Ordeal is a descent into the dark places of the character’s own psyche, where they become fully aware of their deepest fears and their greatest challenges. To successfully negotiate the Ordeal, the character must be willing to confront their fears, to recognise the shadow within themselves. That cliched but so true phrase- “feel the fear and do it anyway”. If they feel the fear and back out, it’s game over. Fail. There is no reward.

But if they feel the fear and take the risk, things can and will still go wrong. The virgin may decide to go ahead and be intimate with the hero, despite her fears he is only using her, and have an mind-shatteringly wonderful experience. The Reward is only ever temporary. The next morning, she may wake up and find that yes, he is a scheming manipulative bastard who was only using her.

The true Black Moment is when everything the character most fears seems to have become reality, and whatever choice the character makes, it’s going to be terrible for them. The Black Moment is in fact the ultimate temptation, the moment when the character chooses whether to be true to themselves, or to become their shadow self. This must relate to the Ordeal, the deepest fear the character realised there, now come to pass. In the fight on the Death Star, Luke loses a hand, but that doesn’t sear his soul in the same way as the discovery that his vision in the cave was true- he and Vader are of the same essence, Vader is his father. He chooses to risk death rather than become his Shadow. 

So in the Ordeal, the character is asked to be willing to confront their worse fear, in the Resurrection, they do actually confront it and are reborn into the world. The old personality dies in a sense in the Ordeal, but the character isn’t actually reborn into their new purified and strengthened self until the Resurrection. Because they are still in the Special World, and not yet back in the Ordinary World. Got it! I think…

Now how that applies to Romance I’m not quite sure yet. In category romance, diferent lines will put differing emphasis on the hero’s journey and the heroine’s journey, some lines more focused on the hero, others on the heroine. There are two separate journeys, that may well be progessing at different rates, but they have to end up at the same place for the HEA. And running away from the Black Moment isn’t the answer. The heroine  or hero has to grow and mature, face and integrate their shadow self, and at the same time win the respect of the other (or in the case of the heroine dealing with the more Alpha hero, force him to respect her!). I think I am seeing why my Instant Seduction entry was rejected- the heroine ran away from her Black Moment.  The  character has to react to their ultimate trial in a way that proves them worthy of a real love, showing them to be a person of true integrity and courage. Luke had only two choices- join Vader or risk death. Hopefully our heroines have  a few more options!

A romance is not just a love story, it is a story of two human being’s emotional and personal growth. Jennifer Crusie’s definition of a Romance ties in well here.  “The medieval definition of a romance always involved a quest, and I think the modern romance does, too: the heroine’s quest for self-actualization. Until a woman finds out who she is and what she needs from life, she can’t really connect to another person as an equal. So the best romance novels always show a woman coming to her strength and fullness as a human being, and part of the reward for the fulfillment of that quest is a strong, equal life partner. “

And the way we come to that strength and fullness of self is through trial, through ordeal, through the darkness. Jung said “When we must deal with problems, we instinctively resist trying the way that leads through obscurity and darkness. We wish to hear only of unequivocal results, and completely forget that these results can only be brought about when we have ventured into and emerged again from the darkness.”

I’m just realising there was another issue that weakened my IS story, one that I think is common for newer romance writers. I didn’t link the stages of Ordeal and Black Moment together, I threw in a new problem to create the Black Moment. The problems didn’t really come organically enough from who the characters were, either, they did partially, but they were also a bit manufactured. I think that’s what’s known as a plot device, isn’t it?

Of course, I had heard of the Hero’s Journey, but hadn’t really thought about it back then, especially applied to Romance. I didn’t know what a black moment was either. I just knew there had to be a couple of places where it looks like the relationship has no chance! It’s exciting to see how far I’ve come in a year. Now, to just apply this to some writing…


The Hero’s Journey April 5, 2009

Filed under: Writing and Life — Autumn Macarthur @ 12:38 am

hero_s_journey_model_meImage by Michael Earle


As is so often the way with me, a random throwaway comment on a discussion group this morning got me interested in reading more about the Hero’s Journey, and I ended up spending all day on it! It does look interesting, and I can think of quite a few series romances I’ve loved which followed the journey pathway step by step.

Joseph Campbell  first described The Hero’s Journey or Mythic Structure , based on a study of myths and archetypes. Scriptwriter Christopher Vogler, in his book The Writer’s Journey , popularised a variation on the theme and applied it specifically to writing.

The theory is that all stories contain similar elements or stages that the central character(s) progress through. At first glance I didn’t see how I could use it to help me in romance writing. Using it for Star Wars is one thing, but the elements of a romance are totally different, surely?

Well, maybe not. The journey may be an actual quest, a real physical journey, which in a romance must also involve emotional challenge and change for the characters. It can just as easily be a purely emotional journey, where one or both of the main characters find their ideas, beliefs, and ways of being are challenged and life will never be the same again. Whatever the external problem the characters have to deal with, the core journey is towards self-knowledge, personal growth, and a committed loving relationship.

In a romance, we have two main characters, so there may be two journeys, the hero’s and the heroine’s, which intertwine through the novel. They may not always be at the same stage in their journeys until the end, and some stages may be skipped, collapsed into one, or done out of order, but the heroine and heroine will always end at the final stage together.

The hero’s journey applies just as much, or even more so, to the heroine. To avoid constantly using “he/she” or “him/her”, I’m going to use “their” or “them” which I know is grammatically incorrect, but a hell of a lot easier to write!

Central to the journey is the choices the character makes and the actions they take. The main characters must be proactive participants in events, responding to the challenges of each phase. They need to earn their happy ending.

This is my personal interpretation of the stages of the hero’s journey as they apply to romance writing, as I‘m working towards understanding it. It’s different to versions I’ve seen some romance writers give, so you may want to check the links at the end to see how other writers have interpreted this.

1. THE ORDINARY WORLD. The hero and heroine, as the reader’s way into the story, are introduced in a way that allows the reader to identify with them, or at least feel some form of sympathy for them. This identification and sympathy may not apply to the more Alpha hero type at first, but does have to occur at some stage in the story- the reader need to be able to understand why the heroine would fall in love with this man, and believe they can be happy together. It is essential that the reader can identify with at least one of the main characters initially. The basis of the character is shown, so the reader can see how far they have come by the end of the story. This may include showing family, background, positive personal features, and flaws. The main characters may begin the story feeling uneasy and uncomfortable with their situation, or oblivious to any need for change. Either way, they don’t know what the problem is.

2. THE CALL TO ADVENTURE. Something shakes up the situation, either external pressures or forces within the character themselves, so one or both characters must make a decision and face the beginnings of change. Something throws normal life off balance. Things can never be the same again. The problem which the character must solve within the book is shown, as well as at least hints of the internal conflict, the emotional issue that is going to get in the way of the character being in a committed relationship. The character is aware of the need for change.

These two stages are often combined or reversed in a romance. Readers tend to want to get straight into the action, know what the hook is of the story. That means starting with the Call to Adventure (what is often called the Inciting Incident). This may be the meeting of hero and heroine, or whatever event triggers the necessity for change in the life of that character. The “backstory” of the Ordinary World is dripped in through detail, hints, or conversation, or in a scene following the initial challenge. The Ordinary World stage is essential and can’t be skipped altogether. The reader needs to see where the character has started from, and have some awareness of what their personal relationship issues are likely to be.

3. REFUSAL OF THE CALL. The character feels the fear of the unknown and tries to turn away from the adventure, however briefly, because of the uncertainty and danger ahead. The problems facing the characters if they either refuse or accept the challenge are shown. If the character is keen to take on the challenge, another character may voice the difficulties which are likely to be confronted. This is the stage of resistance to change. This can give the reader a lot of information about the character, through their reasons for initially refusing then accepting the challenge. This can tell us about their past, their fears, their goals, their motivations, and their values.

4. MEETING WITH THE MENTOR. The mentor is an archetype, someone who gives the hero or heroine confidence, training, help, equipment, or advice that will help on the journey. They may help the character overcome resistance to accepting the challenge, and the initial fears about beginning their journey. Sometimes the character may have an Inner Mentor, through a strong code of honour or justice that guides them through the Journey. In romance, a mentor may be a character such as a friend, relative, maid, or family retainer. Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother is an example of a mentor character. In this stage, the character overcomes their fear to take the next step.

5. CROSSING THE THRESHOLD. This is the point in the story where the character really gets involved, they are committed to their journey. This stage carries the sense of moving from the Ordinary World to a Special World, where the rules and values of the normal world may not apply. Crossing the threshold is the point to moving from one world to another. Once they do this, things can never be the same, there is no going back. Some significant event may propel the character across the threshold and into the adventure. This may be a first kiss, or the first admission of attraction to the other character. In a marriage of convenience story this may occur when the hero or heroine chooses their spouse, or agrees to marry the one chosen for them. The Event will directly affect the character, raising the stakes and forcing them into action. An example of Crossing the Threshold is when Belle agrees to stay with the Beast in return for her father’s life in Beauty and the Beast.

6. TESTS, ALLIES AND ENEMIES. Having crossed the Threshold, the hero or heroine faces Tests, encounters Allies, confronts Enemies, and learns the rules of this Special World. The character adapts to their new environment, learns more about the other character, discovers more about themselves. They need to find out who can be trusted, who is on their side and who or what opposes them. Their strength of character and commitment to continue the journey may be tested by temptations. They may learn new skills they will need in the greater ordeals to come. This is the deeper “getting to know you” stage in a romance. The characters are thrown together by the Journey, and need to ask what they like in each other, what bothers them in each other, and make decisions about whether or not they can trust the other. The hero and heroine both have a decision to make about the other- is this person my ally or my enemy? This is the stage of committing to change.

7. APPROACH TO THE INNERMOST CAVE. The hero or heroine prepare for the Journey’s heart, or central Ordeal. This may involve the character facing their greatest fear or the most dangerous part of their journey. In the last stage, the character committed to the change taking place in their life, in this stage, they may be getting ready to decide to commit to the other character. The character must confront their greatest fears in order to claim their goal. It may not be a literal cave, it could be a metaphorical one. This is where the heroine who has pledged never to love, realises she loves the hero, and so opens herself up to the risks of pain and heartbreak. Often, it can decision by a heroine to consummate her love with the hero, if she’s been resisting. For a hero who has never trusted a woman, or the woman who doesn’t want to rely on a man, it could be the moment when they realise they’re going to have to. They don’t act on it yet, but they know they are going to. This is the stage of preparing for even bigger change.

8. THE ORDEAL. Near the middle of the story, the hero or heroine enters a central space in the Special World and confronts death or faces what they believe is their greatest fear. Out of the moment of death comes a new life. In a romance, this is not usual literal death, but a psychic or emotional one. The decision made in the last stage is acted on. Depending on how the other character responds, they are facing a very real risk of failure in their journey. The heroine gives herself sexually to the hero, placing herself physically in his hands. The hero is forced to trust the heroine, not knowing for sure if she will be worthy of his trust or betray him. The audience feels the same suspense wondering if the character will survive unscathed. The Ordeal is the central, essential, and magical Stage of any Journey.

This stage is where I go a different road to some other romance writers applying the mythic structure to romance. Okay, they’re published and I’m not, what would I know? But I can’t see that this stage is the Black Moment, as some writers say. It’s supposed to happen halfway through the book for one thing. And there’s another even darker moment ahead. I believe that in this stage the character shows their willingness to face “death” for the other, whatever that means to them. It does represent a major change or transition, such as from virgin to sexually awakened; or closed emotionally to opening up; or untrusting to willing to trust. The old self is dead, but the future is not yet sure. In a story with a double black moment, this may be the first black moment, but worse is yet to come.

This is stage is a such a major change for the character that it has that life or death feel about it.

9. THE REWARD. This is a stage of celebration. The character enjoys the rewards of their sacrifice in the last stage. In romance, it looks like the relationship is working out and everything is going to be fine. This may be a honeymoon period, after first sex, the declaration of love, or the other character seeming to prove themselves worthy of trust. The happy ever after seems assured. Except that there’s another forty or fifty pages to go, at least, and the reader knows things are never that easy!

In this stage, the characters come to terms with the new life that the last section brought them into. They have made some significant changes, but have not yet overcome their deepest relationship blocks. They are able to be happy together only because they are still in the Special World, where normal rules do not apply. They now need to move back into the Ordinary World an create a relationship strong enough to survive there.

10. THE ROAD BACK. About three-fourths of the way through the story, the character is driven to complete the journey of emotional growth. Some event forces them back into action. This is the part where the “villain” who appeared to be dead in the last section suddenly comes after the her and heroine again. In a romance, it’s probably not an external villain at this stage, though that can be the catalyst, but an even deeper layer of emotional conflict and relationship block. It can be another betrayal, or a new conflict between the hero and heroine, which symbolises something more- one character’s recognition that they have grown and changed, opened their heart, become a different person, but the other has not. This is the place where a character who has conflicting goals realises that both are not possible, and that one be sacrificed. In a romance, this may be the choice between following their original personal goal or following their heart. One character forces the return to the Ordinary World, and breaks the illusion of happiness they were enjoying.

11. THE RESURRECTION. At the climax, the character is tested once more, even more severely than before. This is the true Black Moment. He or she is required to make a last sacrifice, face another moment of death and rebirth, but on a higher and more complete level. This represents the final and complete removal of the deepest relationship blocks. This is the stage of emotional catharsis, of a full and complete letting go of anything holding the character back from a new life. The character shows that they have learned the life lessons they needed to, they can bring all they learned and gained in the Special World back into the Ordinary World. They have passed the final test, shown their worth and strength of character, and are reborn as their truest self. Now at last they can claim the love that is they have truly earned and shown themselves worthy of by their actions.

12. RETURN WITH THE ELIXIR. The hero or heroine returns home to rebuild a brand new Ordinary Life, that is transformed as they have been transformed by whatever they bring back from the Special World. The questions raised at the beginning of the story are now all resolved. This is the real happy ever after, the full declaration of love and commitment from both main characters. It may be a marriage, or a pregnancy, or both. It may be the simple knowledge that this couple can now move forward, secure in their love for each other.

The end!

So that’s the hero’s journey. My job for tomorrow is to play around with it some more and apply it to my current story.

Here are the links to sites I used researching this-
Chris Vogler’s own site
I actually have no idea who’s site this is, but it was hugely helpful!
Historical paranormal writer Colleen Gleason’s site