Developing Relationship

In romance, the paramount part of the story is developing a relationship. Hero and heroine should meet quickly, have an emotional reaction to each other, and create the capacity to further the relationship in a romantic way.

Thirty pages of the heroine’s or hero’s past, told from her/his own and others’ points of view, is not developing the relationship. Backstory has no impact. Backstory is the past, always static and never changing. It is also simply a passive retelling of events. And remember, romantic fiction works better when you show, don’t tell.

Start the story where the hero and heroine meet. Establish an emotional bond as quickly as possible. A physical bond, such as noting the other’s attractiveness, is an okay start, but by delving straight into emotion, the bond is stronger and the reader begins to identify with the protagonists much quicker.

Spend the rest of the novel keeping the hero and heroine together as much as possible. Find reasons for them to meet, whether by accident or design. Play up each meeting with emotional impact – what they are feeling, rather than what they are seeing. As I’ve noted in other articles, a good way to do this is to pretend your character is blind, and then use the remaining senses to tell the reader about that character.

“Merry Christmas!” Jeanie moved towards the door, pulling her scarf tighter against the chill outside. Stepping out into the crisp winter day, she sighed with delight. “Oh!”
“Pretty, isn’t it?” Jarrod Smith stepped forward, a brightly colored shopping bag in his hand.
“It’s like a Christmas card.” The scent of cinnamon wafted from the bakery next door. She looked up at him, noting his eyelashes were coated with snowflakes as he lifted his face into the sky.
“This is my favorite time of year.” His laugh was infectious and she joined in.
“Mine, too!”
“I love the smells, I love watching people scurry about, although I’m not too fond of shoveling the wet stuff.” He grinned. “Listen!”
Then she heard it. Bells jingled as two horses came dancing down the street, pulling a small sleigh.
“Want to go on a sleigh ride?” He didn’t wait for her answer. He grabbed her mittened fingers and ran across the street. Jeanie felt warm hands around her waist as he lifted her into the seat.
“Hot cider in the thermos, warm cookies in the insulated bag.” The driver pointed as they snuggled under a wool blanket.
As the bells rang and the snow fell, Jarrod leaned close and gently kissed Jeanie, tasting of cider and sugar cookies.

Even though no descriptions of the actual characters are used, the reader gets an implied sense of character from how the protagonists are reacting to the various stimuli around them. Jarrod is fun-loving, spontaneous and interested in Jeanie. Jeanie is polite, yet adventurous. Both are observant and Jeanie is making memories in her mind. All those subliminal messages are picked up by the reader, placing them not only in the scene, but making them enjoy it. This allows the reader to identify with the characters even more.

Refrain from introducing a third character who describes or spends time listing all the hero or heroine’s attributes. Not only does this detract from the developing romance by putting a “three’s a crowd” aspect into the novel, but it is telling, rather than showing.

You can write a little bit of the past into the hero and heroine’s point-of-view, but only if it pertains to the developing relationship. Perhaps the hero has a small child. He can let the heroine know he adopted the child while he was overseas, or his wife ran off or died. A few paragraphs are the limit of what is needed to explain to both the heroine and the reader. The wife doesn’t even need to be named, she is non-essential to the developing relationship.

What happens in the here and now is where your hero and heroine should be. The present. Not the past. Show, don’t tell. Make your readers remember the characters long after the story is finished. Give your hero and heroine a future, a Happy Ever After.

Editing the Middle

I see a lot of stories that start out showing potential--more than potential, in fact; I'm intrigued. The first page is a doozy, it's grabbed me with some awesome action, or intrigued me with a hint of some mystery or conflict to come, and I can't wait to read more. (These are the kinds of submissions I like to see, BTW). And then all of a sudden, I get to page 40, and things begin to unravel. The rate of unravelling varies from story to story. Sometimes, by page 45, I'm ready to throw in the towel; sometimes, it takes a little longer--maybe to page 100 or 150. . .and I can tell you, it's devastating.

Rejecting a manuscript is the worst thing I have to do as an editor. I know authors have worked long and hard on their manuscripts, and they have a dream that my rejection is going to shoot down. But, I also have a responsibilty to the authors I do contract and to readers who purchase White Rose Publishing books, to uphold a strong standard, so when stories fall apart, I have no choice but to say no.

So, today I'm here to say, make sure your stories don't fall apart. Easier said than done, I know. The problem is, I think, that those first three chapters--50 pages, or so--get edited, and edited, and edited. Every time an editor requests them, the author makes one more run-through before sending it in. Crit partners go over them. Family members take one last look. But chapters four through the end get edited twice or thrice.

We need not to ignore the middle. This is where plots need the extra attention. Look at the conflicts that have been established early on. Do they sustain through the middle with a heightened degree of emotion? If so, great! If not, figure out a secondary conflict to introduce partway through so that the middle progresses, climbs to the ultimate point of no return.

Look at dialogue. Are we filling our characters' mouths with fluff just to get to the point where our climax is going to happen and we know the reader is going to finally say, "Wow"? If so, silence those characters and think of something worthwhile for them to say. Dialogue needs to drive the plot forward, not merely act as a bridge to get us from point A to point B. It needs to create or ease tension, initiate understanding or misunderstanding, eliminate clues or create red herrings. All dialogue should have a purpose that moves the characters forward.

Look at interior dialogue. Are our characters repeating sentiments that we've heard so many times over the past 100 pages that hearing them one more time makes us want to take the mallet out of the author's hand and put it to our own heads? If so, cut it. If the story becomes too short later, find better ways to add to word count. Don't fluff the middle, fortify it with substance. Interior dialogue needs to show that our characters are growing and changing. They had a problem at the beginning of the book, and that problem may not yet be solved, but our characters should have learned something over the course of the opening chapters that help him/her to grow or to find a workable solution.

If you look at a scene and can't see its purpose, the scene doesn't need to be there. Cut it. It may hurt, but think of it as the refining fire. Once all the impurities are stripped away, the story will shine with a brilliance that will dazzle editors and readers alike.

Show, don't tell...

Show, don’t tell.

How many times have you seen that written in a rejection you’ve received? What does it mean?

When an editor asks for show, we’re basically asking an author to allow the reader to be a “fly on the wall” observing the story as it unfolds.

Readers can’t “see” the past life of the hero or heroine. Since a story is mostly written in present tense, the past is gone, and cannot be shown. Therefore, it can only be told. It is essentially set in stone. A little bit of telling is okay in a story, but since it is past, it is also stagnant, and has no possibility of change. An example of telling:

Henry always thought the moon was made of charcoal. As a young boy, he figured that God had simply lit a big fire when He said, “let there be light,” and then tossed one of the spent, ashy gray briquettes out into the night sky. It never occurred to him to wonder how God started the fire.

An author should tell only enough to bring the hero and heroine to the present point of meeting, and then drop the past. Present and future tense offer the possibility of change – the hero can get the girl, the lost cause may not be so lost, the possibility of resolution and a happy-ever-after is active and ever present in the back of the reader’s mind. They read in hope of seeing the characters resolve the difficulties, and then resume the life they are supposed to have in the future.

The author’s task is to unfold impossible odds, and make them possible. As the story is written the author should be revealing the layers of the hero and heroine’s characters, their reactions to the plot that surrounds them, and the way the characters solve the issues to bring forth that Happy-Ever-After.

Show the hero and heroine actively trying to get together, learning about each other and ultimately, being together. Don’t let their feelings stagnate while you tell about something in their pasts, instead, bring it forward, such as this example:

“I remember when I was little, I thought the moon was made of burnt charcoal.” Henry smiled at Vanessa as he slipped an arm around her shoulders.
“Because of the glow?”
“No, because of the ashy, gray color. I thought God lit a fire and tossed one spent briquette into the night sky.”
“I guess that’s not any funnier than the story behind Orion’s Belt or Osiris.” Vanessa snuggled in closer. “Of course, that begs the question, where did God get the charcoal briquettes?”
“You know, I’ve never though of that.” Henry looked at her, bemused. “I guess I thought God got the same kind of bag at the grocery store that my Dad bought every time we had a barbeque.”
“Did I ever tell you your mind moves in mysterious ways, Henry?”

See how the past was introduced in the present? Note also that you are building character. Henry feels comfortable enough to slip an arm around Vanessa, and she is comfortable enough to snuggle in. So…they like each other. The conversation is silly, but the underlying meaning is revealed to us as implication – they are flirting, tucked in together, enjoying a lover’s moon. Game, set, match.

Activate your characters. Give them the present, and the future. Show, don’t tell.

Editing tip: Keeping track of POV

A year or so ago I wrote up a little article that gave some tips on how to spot errors in your manuscript during the editing process. Today, I have another. One problem that I often find in manuscripts is an out-of-place POV (point-of-view) switch. I’m not talking about continuous head-hopping, just a sentence of an alternate character’s POV plugged in where it shouldn’t be. Most authors know not to do this, but sometimes a line or two will slip in as we’re writing our first draft because we’re in the heat of the scene and recording everything that pops into our heads. The trick is to catch those on the re-read—and the problem arises when we stop our editing session, or get distracted, right before one of these erroneous sentences, and then pick up later. It’s a perfect formula for us miss seeing it as the wrong POV.

So, a tip to help you remember who’s POV you’re in: Colour-code your manuscript. If you like, you can do it as you’re writing. If you’re doing it this way, choose different font colours for each POV Character, and then on the edit read-through, you’ll know by the colour whose head you’re supposed to be in and if you come to a sentence that isn’t in the right “colour’s” POV, edit or delete.

If you don’t want to use different font colours as you write, colour code your manuscript right before you edit. This may sound difficult, but since most POV switches are offset by scene breaks, you can easily see where the breaks are. Highlight each break/POV in a different colour. Then, when you fall asleep editing at 1 a.m., and have to pick it up the next day, you won’t have to remember, or go back and re-read to know whose POV you’re in.

Consider Your Reader

One of the hardest issues confronting writers today is our audience. They are, at the same time, our biggest fans, and our harshest critics.

As Christians, we each have a mission in life. We are to love God and keep his commandments. Two of his commandments are to use our talents wisely, and to spread The Word.

We, as writers, may not go out preaching on the mountaintops or from a pulpit, but our words reach people, nonetheless. We do not know where our books will end up. When that book is left on a bus, and a troubled teen picks it up, or when it is shared with a friend who needs to feel hope, or when it bridges the generations because your Mom is so proud she sees you in a different light and becomes your biggest fan – you’ve touched hearts. And implicitly, so has God.

Each of our books should carry the Message, words of hope, words of joy, words of gold. Infuse your characters with the God you know.

Do not be afraid to confront the troubles of the secular world in your books. Reach for the angst to create the tribulations for your characters, and then solve their problems with God’s touch.

Christian Inspirational fiction is one of the fastest growing markets today. People are tired of books that depict worldly matters with all the angst, all the temptations, all the depravations…and no hope.

“For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” ~ Jeremiah 29:11

When writing, give a voice to the voiceless. Lend your talents to the troubled. Create trials for your hero and heroine to overcome. And then, let God give them hope and a future.