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!
I was so pleased to find another post from you. And yes, ihearts presents has heaps of information which I have copied, printed and studied, and studied, and continuing to study. 🙂 It’s so valuable…
I am having fun here also. 🙂 I can’t wait until your next post. It all makes sense.
I have a good angle of my heroine, but what I have found I have a phone conversation of about one page in my first chapter.
The heroine’s girlfriend rings. I read that having this in a first chapter is a no no… It can be easily removed and replaced.
What are your thoughts on this Lyn, if you don’t mind or have the time?
One more question sorry. Word count is under five thousand words for a first chapter. How little under this mark would be acceptable?
Thanks, and a big thanks for taking the time to help others.
Hi, Suzanne! Glad you’re finding it useful!
Okay, as for your phone call in chapter one, my opinion — and it’s only an opinion! — is that if your chapter is fast paced, has two compelling main characters, and a big problem right off the bat, then whether or not there’s a phone call isn’t going to make or break your entry. In other words, the editors won’t reject you simply for a phone call. (Spanish Magnate, Red-Hot Revenge starts with a phone call, in fact; but it’s quite a dramatic event.)
OTOH, if it can be easily removed, as you say, then perhaps it doesn’t have a place in the chapter? Only you can decide this, Suzanne. Take a look at what this phone call is doing in your story. Is it there for a reason? Does it complicate the issue somehow? Make your decision based on that and not on a “rule” someone told you to follow.
As for word count, end the chapter on a good hook. I think the contest gives a maximum so people will have to stop, not a number you must meet. My entry was somewhere around 4500 words I think.
I find your blog via a RT on Twitter, so good news travels!
Thank you for this series of posts, I plan to go back and read them all now. While I am only an occassional romance reader, Harlequin Presents have always been my favorites. I look forward to reading more of your blog as well as your novel!
Hi, Suzanne! Thanks for stopping by. I love that you found me through Twitter. 🙂
Oh wow, there is two of me. lol… another Suzanne. (Hi Suzanne) Okay I’m suzanne the writer. lol..
Thank you Lyn for your comments. What I meant I can take it out, but it does come up in the next chapter and later on in the story.
I’ll read over it, but I think it needs to stay. Nonetheless, I’ll have a good think about it. It does start off right in the action. My crit partners will also give some feedback god bless them. 🙂
Thanks once again for your time and answers. I promise I won’t bug you for a while. 🙂
Sorry, there are two of me. lol… Must have been tired. 🙂
Oh yes, let your CPs have a look too! They can tell you if the scene affects your pace, if it’s not necessary, etc. Sometimes we need input when we get so close to our work we can’t see what needs to stay or go. Happens to all of us. 🙂