I’ve noticed that I’m getting a lot of traffic lately from the posts over at I Heart Presents about the writing competition. I thank you all for visiting me! Maybe as you gear up for the latest contest, you’re looking for wisdom, the secret, etc. Or maybe you just want to know how to write a Harlequin Presents.

So I’m going to share what I know with you. Bear in mind that no two writers are alike. Bear in mind that my way is not the only way or the correct way, etc. But my way does come from experience. Not a ton of experience, but enough. I’ve now written three books for the line, and I’m working on my fourth.

Ready? Here we go with lesson one:

First, ask yourself why you’re trying to write a Presents. Is it because you love reading them? Because you love the alpha male, the glamor and passion of the exotic settings, the seduction of two people falling in love in spite of chasms of issues between them? Do you love the emotional pull of these intense stories?

Or do you want to write them because they are short and surely must be quick to write? Because you’ve heard the editors are buying? Because you want to be published and think this line is as good as any? Because how hard is it to write a jerk and the doormat that lets him stomp all over her?

If your answer is more in line with the first set of questions, awesome! If it’s the second, you probably need to go back to the drawing board. You need to start reading these books and see why they are beloved by women around the world. If you can’t see it, you probably can’t write it. You must love the line, or at least understand why it works, to write it. MUST.

Secondly, if you’re still here, you need compelling characters. Characters with deep issues, with conflicts that drive them. (There are posts by the editors over at IHP explaining all of this.) The story is not about the plot, it’s about the characters. Believe me, I have trouble with this in the planning stages. Because I start with a scenario and then I start trying to figure out the how and why of the scenario. I’ve finally discovered that I really don’t need to bother with a synopsis (other than the one my editor will want). I won’t follow it and it doesn’t matter. WHO the characters are is what matters.

What they want, what they fear, what they desire, and what it is about all of this that makes them both the best person and the worst for the other one. That’s what you need to know.

Your assignment, should you choose to complete it, is to figure out what is driving your characters. That will feed into their motivation, which is another important facet of writing for HP. Learn their fears. Know them inside and out. Know their emotions.

Another tip, and this one is self-serving I admit, is to read not only the usual Harlequin Presents authors you love and are familiar with, but to read the ones who’ve been brought into the line recently. Sabrina Phillips, Janette Kenny, and I all have releases available in stores now. Read us, see what it is about our voices that clicked for the editors.

Next week, I’ll talk about the nuts and bolts of crafting that first chapter.