Are we having fun yet, y’all? I’m very pleasantly surprised by your interest in what I have to say on this topic. Thanks for reading along, even if you don’t want to leave a comment. I really hope these posts help you on your journey to writing for Presents. Remember that this is all simply my opinion and my experience. You can glean a lot from following the editors’ posts on I Heart Presents as well. The biggest way to learn, however, is to read lots of Presents! Not to copy a style, but to internalize the elements. It’s like playing a piano. You don’t play Bach right out the gate, do you? You study and practice. For music, part of that study is listening. For writing, it’s reading.
I left today’s topic to whim, but it seemed to make the most sense to talk about the heroine. The guidelines state she “may be shy and vulnerable, [but] she’s also plucky and determined to challenge [the hero’s] arrogant pursuit.”
This woman is not simply window dressing. She is not a doormat, not just a foil for the hero, and not interchangeable. Your heroine must be strong enough to challenge your hero. Yes, she may be at his mercy in your story — blackmail, revenge, secret baby, etc — but being at his mercy does NOT mean being a victim.
The plot is often made more delicious by putting your heroine in your hero’s power. In Spanish Magnate, Red-Hot Revenge, Rebecca suddenly finds her company in Alejandro’s control. And because he has her company, he has her. She is not powerless, however.
In fact, the hero often thinks the heroine is powerless — but that’s a mistake, and he will realize it eventually. Rebecca goes along with Alejandro because she wants to regain her company. But she has the power to walk away. She is not a victim. No matter how Alejandro blusters and schemes, she can walk away. Yes, there will be consequences, but she’s not a slave. (There must always be consequences — why else will the heroine stay or the hero insist on having things his way?)
Using Pride & Prejudice again, Elizabeth is at Darcy’s mercy in many ways. No, she’s not under his power in the manner of a blackmailed bride or a pregnant heroine, but there are consequences to rebuffing Darcy. When he proposes, the proper thing to do for her family is to accept. Then, her sisters and mother won’t be homeless when her father dies. But Elizabeth can’t do it. You could write your story where the heroine does accept the proposal, for the greater good, and then you’ve got the two together working out their issues. Jane Austen didn’t do it that way, but it doesn’t detract from the story or the problems that continue to mount for both characters.
In a Modern/Presents, you’ll want your hero and heroine together as soon as possible, working through those emotional issues. In that respect, they will be more like Beauty and the Beast. Belle is at the Beast’s mercy, living in his castle, etc. As we discussed yesterday, the layers are peeled away until they are in love. But think about Belle for a moment. She’s not a victim and she doesn’t simply cower from the Beast. She acts. Very important to remember.
Your heroine will act. She will not simply react. It’s her action & reaction to the hero that helps drive the emotional power of the plot. He can’t dominate her, no matter how he tries — and he may try desperately. She has an inner core of strength he can’t touch. In fact, bear with me and my whimsy for a moment, but the heroine is the slayer of dragons here. It’s her strength and power that bring the hero to his metaphorical knees.
This is the power of Presents. I believe the stories are very archetypal, and this archetype is about the taming of the beast, the taming of the forces that threaten to overwhelm and control us (oops, English major alert!).
Now, if we put it all together so far we have: an emotional story driven by characters with deep fears (baggage) who are in conflict with each other; the conflict grows out of the fear, and is unique to these two people. The hero is a ruthless man with deep beliefs and a core of integrity and honor; he will stop at nothing to get what he wants, though he will not cross the line into behavior at odds with his code of honor. The heroine is a strong woman with needs and fears of her own; though she may be at the hero’s mercy, she refuses to be a victim. She challenges him and makes him see her as a woman who deserves to be acknowledged as his equal.
Make sense? I hope so! I swear I don’t think about this as much when writing, but this is the essential core of what I do when I’m doing it. I want to convey it to you in a way you can understand. I hope this works.
Tomorrow, I’ll touch on the global voice. Then we’ll get to crafting the first chapter. And for next week, I have a special treat for you! Modern Heat author Kimberly Lang, my lunch buddy and fellow chapter mate, will tell you about the Modern Heat hero, heroine, and tone. Because I know nothing about how she does what she does (though I enjoy her stories for the sassy, humorous tone that is totally at odds with what I write). So if you’re targeting Modern Heat, keep an eye out for her advice!
Questions? Comments? Let’s talk!