Last week, I told you to ask yourself why you wanted to write for Harlequin Presents. This week, I hope you’ve done that and your answer is some variation of “because I enjoy the passion, emotion, and seduction of these stories!”
Assuming this is the case, I’m going to talk about why plot is not the driving factor in these stories (we’ll get to the first chapter later in the week!). Plot is external. It’s important, of course, and in a longer length novel it’s essential to have a more complex plot of external factors that feeds into the movement of the story. In a 50K word category novel that is all about intense emotion, you don’t have room for a complicated plot. You need plot as a reason to get the characters together and keep them together.
But plot is not what drives them. Putting two essential strangers in a room together and having them dislike one another is not going to make a satisfactory Presents plot either. Beware the land developer/tree hugger plot. This is a prime example of external factors driving the story. When you toss together two people who are at loggerheads over external factors, such as he wants to build a mall on ten acres of prime real estate and she’s trying to save the rare three-toed spotted flying squirrel that only lives in this ten acres of land, this is not about emotion. She may care very deeply about the squirrel, and he may care very much about his job and building that mall, but where is the personal angst?
Now give them something very deep and personal, like his mother’s life depends on building the mall and her father’s life depends on him not, and you’ve got something you can work with. (Bear in mind these are tongue in cheek examples, and that several authors have very successfully written the LD/TH plot — but usually by adding in deep emotional issues of some sort.) Naturally, there have to be personal emotional issues at stake as well, not just dying parents. This is where what has happened to these characters in their lives, the emotional events that have left scars, will come into play.
I’ve mentioned emotional scars, haven’t I? Well, the first thing you need to realize about writing a classic Harlequin Presents is that there will be emotional baggage. In Spanish Magnate, Red-Hot Revenge, each character suffers emotional scars, aside from the scars of their damaged relationship, that dictates how they respond to each other. Alejandro has suffered a deep personal loss and fears something similar ever happening again; since he blames Rebecca for being the impetus, he also fears caring for her ever again. Rebecca fears failing her family, and she fears falling in love with a man who’s already broken her heart once before. They have a lot to work through!
And that’s the point. Your characters need to have a lot to work through. Even if they’ve never met before, something about the situation they are now in triggers their deepest fears. Something about each other triggers those fears, forces them to deal with the fears. And no one likes dealing with a deep-seated fear, does she?
For a much better explanation to all of this than I am giving, you really should get a copy of Kate Walker’s 12-Point Guide to Writing Romance. There is a US edition available now, which Kate tells you how to get. I have this book and highly recommend it! (If I’d had it before I sold my first book, I might have sold a little quicker!)
Now think about those emotional scars your characters have! I told you on Friday to learn their fears and figure out what is driving them. This is the same thing, really, but make it more specific. What happened to them to make them the way they are? Why is this going to be a problem when these two meet up? Why can’t they just talk about it, laugh at how silly they’ve been to be so hung up on this issue, and move on?
It’s important to figure this out because this is ground zero for their motivation.
For tomorrow: quite probably the centerpiece around which these stories are built, to the dismay of some and delight of others, is the alpha hero in all his wounded glory. It’s a fine line to walk, and not everyone likes this kind of hero. But many, many readers do. Therefore, I’ll be talking about the glorious alpha and why he’s so important to writing for Harlequin Presents.
I hope you’ll join me!