Monday, November 30, 2009
Friday, November 27, 2009
The true Alpha male is not a bully or a brute. He is the guy who is first to lead the charge for a worthy cause. He is supremely equipped, physically and mentally, to fight for success in the ultra-competitive world we inhabit.
The true Alpha male embodies the best characteristics of the male of our species, namely rugged outer qualities such as muscularity, strength and power, but also inner qualities such as confidence (without conceit), courage (without recklessness), commitment and a conscience.
The true Alpha male has the combination of physical and mental toughness but also a concern for other humans as a whole.
A true Alpha male meets the ideal of contemporary masculine excellence. In other words, the true Alpha male has all the core qualities of a hero.
Monday, November 23, 2009
I've done a post on internal conflict before, but it bears repeating. I give the whole subject a lot of thought, after all. As we all should, since getting it wrong seems to earn a lot of very talented writers some very fast rejection letters! I was fortunate that my own conflict issue has only gotten me revisions at this point.
Thursday, November 19, 2009
I'm in desperate need of some levity today. Has been an interesting week in the writing world and I just can't handle all the seeeerrrriousness anymore!!
Tuesday, November 17, 2009
She looked past him. “I want you to know, I tried to call you. I did. I left a message with your PA and you never called back, and so I came here to see you, only I couldn't get in to see you, so I was just going to go home.”
“Yeah, I do that when I'm nervous. But you try telling some guy you barely know that you're pregnant and see you calm you feel.” She clapped a hand over her mouth in a belated attempt to stop the uncontrollable flow of words from escaping.
Jack's eyes narrowed. “You're what?”
“And this has something to do with me?”
Her blood reached the boiling point. “No. I thought I'd come all this way to let you know I got knocked up by some random guy. So, it's been real, I'll look you up next time I'm in the area.”
His temper snapped. “This is not the time for sarcasm.”
She let out an indignant huff. “Well, ask a stupid question.”
“So, you're telling me it's my baby?” he began to pace the room. He felt dangerously close to losing his trademark cool. In every situation in his life, business or personal, he was always in control. Except, it seemed, with Stacey.
“Of course it's your baby! Do you think I hopped out of your bed and into someone elses?”
His blue eyes flashed dangerously. “Well, you hopped into mine pretty fast.”
Her cheeks flamed. “You hopped just as fast as I did.” Of all the chauvinistic double standards.
He had the decency to look somewhat cowed by that. “I'm sorry. That was uncalled for.”
Sunday, November 15, 2009
Thursday, November 12, 2009
In this instance, the plot came before the characters. I knew I needed a prince, and I knew I needed a commoner. Beyond that, I had nothing in mind. So I had some free rein in creating the people that wanted to inhabit my new little world.
First order of business was to figure out who the hero was. He had to be commanding, of course, and sexy, and powerful. He's a prince after all. And as I'm partial to dark haired, dark skinned men, he was lucky enough to be blessed with hose attributes. But that isn't who he is. So I had to dig deeper and figure out what his internal conflict was. What would hold this man, with wealth, power, everything he could want at his fingertips, back from falling straight into love with the heroine?
So as the picture of my hero began to form, the heroine started taking shape. I knew the hero was going to be all about duty and honor, a very straight laced, traditional kind of guy. And I knew that with that, I wanted a woman who didn't back down from a challenge, who had wit to spare and who knew how to hold her own. Her personality was formed as a foil to his, so that she was someone who would both compliment and challenge the hero that I had created. Even her looks were designed to be in opposition to something: the woman my hero is *gasp* engaged to.
Then I started going deeper into her, figuring out where she came from, and what things are hang-ups for her, what sorts of things would bother her and which things would roll off her back, and ultimately, what would be the breaking point for her in a relationship.
From the character histories that I created came all kinds of things about them, the way they move, the way they talk and the way they react in certain situations.
Caitlin, my heroine, for example, is from the Midwest and has a much more casual speech pattern than Renzo, the hero, who speaks English as a second language and grew up in a much more formal environment.
Character building, for me, is never the same thing twice. With my last MS I created two people with a fairly complete history and then though: What would be about the most difficult situation for them to deal with? Then I threw it at them. As far as internal conflict went, this made writing that MS pretty straightforward.
How do you do it? How do you build characters and bring them to life? What comes first, the characters or the plot?
Monday, November 9, 2009
So, I thought I would talk about some of the main points made in my letters, to give you an idea of what the editors are looking for, using my folly as an example. Hey, someone oughtta learn from my mistakes, right?
A lot of this relates specifically to Harlequin Presents/Modern, but also could be translated to any publisher of any genre, because good writing, good story construction, is pretty universal.
Pace: After my second round of revisions I had added in some new scenes, which was a bad idea, because while, in my mind, I was building a mood, in reality I was slowing the pace. I had added these scenes that were fine enough, but they weren't advancing the story. Especially in these shorter novels, pacing is a big deal.
Recently, with all the contests floating around, I've seen a lot of the people who judge contests saying that the biggest problem they see in entries is pacing. Too much time is spent describing the mundane and not enough time spent propelling the story forward.
I heard it described this way once: In the classics, like Dickens for example, description was much more important. The author might spend two paragraphs explaining a cobblestone street. Because maybe not everyone knew just what a cobblestone street was. Now we're inundated with images, we've seen much more, and in our movie culture we demand stories with a more movie-like pace, rather than one that spends four pages telling you about the gables of a house.
When editing, ask yourself: what is this scene doing to advance the plot? As it was put in my letter, "In this case the reader is almost waiting for the point of change, or a secondary layer of conflict."
And I didn't deliver it. What I had was some boring scenes that just sat there.
Conflict: Oh, this is the biggie. Conflict. Internal stinking conflict. In my letter it was put this way, "Readers respond to strong, believable conflicts that stem from the character’s fundamental personality, and which exist within the construct of the relationship itself."
Well, that means that (and this seems like a no duh, but it took be long enough to get it) the conflict comes from within the characters, not an outside source. External conflict is there, it's essential to most plots.
For example: The h and H have to get married to secure an inheritance, but they'll only stay married for one year.
But that's not what keeps them apart, it's not what drives them or what makes them who they are, and ultimately it's not the twelve month limit on the relationship that's going to end it, it's their own issues. And no, it can't be a crazy ex-girlfriend, I tried that. That's also external.
But what if the hero believes that no one can love him? His own mother left him, and since then, since acquiring his vast fortune, everyone in his life has just been a leech, after his wealth. So he rejects the heroine's love because he believes it to be false, based on an insecurity within him.
Probably not the best example, but I thought it up on the fly. And anyway, you get the idea. Internal conflict is not the crazy exes or evil aunts or half-heard conversations.
Character: Now, she had a lot of good to say about my characters, but she had some very valid points about some things I'd done wrong. This is from my third letter and she mentions that especially during revisions, it's easy to have characters slip out of...well...character.
With my hero especially, as I've mentioned, I had to really make him more alpha than he was in my first draft, and while I did that, there were moments where Old Marco came out and undermined New Sexy Marco. It was essential that I made sure I knew Marco so that I could read through the MS and know right away if he was acting 'off.'
As for my heroine, I was guilty, at times, of falling back on cliches. Elaine is a strong woman, educated and career oriented, yet at times she did things simply because it's what the heroines do. When Marco reached for her she gave a cry and pulled away. And it was brought up in the letter 'why would she give a cry?' Good question. Why would my very non-shrinking violet heroine turn into a swooning Southern Belle suddenly?
The editor's words were, "have faith in your characters. Don’t try and emulate what you have read before, but build believable, three-dimensional people who have honest reactions. Don’t fall back on the stereotype."
And that's great advice for every author and every MS in every genre. If the reader can't buy into the characters, they won't care about the book. We have to make people that are real, who say real things and react to situations the way real people would. Even if they are richer and prettier while doing it. :-)
And in closing, she reminded me to let my natural voice shine through, because that's what they want. Authors who can bring their own twist and flavor to the line, not retreads of what's been seen before.
Write happy, my friends!
Saturday, November 7, 2009
Here's a very rough excerpt from my just finished MS, His Unwanted Wife! Enjoy!
Sabrina clapped a hand over her chest to try and still her beating heart. Cade had never looked more handsome than he did tonight. And she was certain she’d never loved him more.
She knew there were plenty of people who would say that a young woman of eighteen didn’t know what true love was, but she did. She knew she did. She had from the first moment she’d seen Cade scowling in the entryway of her family home, his protective grasp on his mother’s arm, his misgivings about his newly inherited family clearly etched in his face.
He’d been the only man for her from that moment on. Not that he’d ever noticed her in that way. She was just his annoying stepsister as far as he was concerned But that was going to change tonight.
Smoothing her hands over the slinky burgundy velvet that hugged her abundant figure like a second skin, she began to walk out from her parent’s grand ballroom and onto the terrace. Cade was there, his hands gripping the railing tight, his focus on the ocean that crashed against the rocks below. He was so handsome it took her breath away. No, not just handsome, sexy.
One thing that had changed about her feelings in the past eight years was the nature of her desires. When she’d first met him she’d thought him the most handsome boy she’d ever seen, and she’d hero worshipped him to the point of driving him crazy.
She no longer worshipped him, not in that way. She wanted him. Like a woman wanted a man. She longed to kiss his sensual lips, to caress his chiseled jaw and twine her fingers through his thick dark hair. She wanted to kiss his neck, his chest. Everything. Everywhere. It had become an absolute madness inside of her, this need for him both emotionally and physically.
He was so handsome, his broad tall frame backlit by the silver glow of the moon. She placed her hands on her full hips, horribly self-conscious of the fact that she wasn’t the essence of female perfection. She felt wide and ungainly suddenly, not exactly like a sexy siren.
She took a breath the steel herself against the nerves that were threatening to overwhelm her. No going back now. Cade was her birthday present to herself. She wanted him and she wasn’t going to deny herself anymore. It was her birthday party after all. Shouldn’t she get the one thing she wanted most?
“Hi,” she said, suddenly feeling a lot more timid and a lot less like the brazen vixen she’d imagined she might transform herself into with a form fitting dress and stiletto heels. Instead she was just conscious of the fact that any rogue bubble of fat might choose that moment to shift and make itself visible to his piercing brown gaze.
“Happy birthday,” he said, lifting a glass of champagne in her direction.
“Could I have some of that?” she asked, gesturing to the fizzy drink in his hand.
“Maybe in three more years, princess,” he said, her childhood nickname sounding oddly intimate on his lips tonight. Maybe it was just her wild imagination wanting everything he said to sound intimate.
“I’m not a child, Cade,” she said, trying to make her voice sound a little huskier, a little more sensual.
“I didn’t say you were. But the law is the law.” He tipped back another sip, a mocking grin on his handsome face.
She rubbed her lips together to smooth out a lump she could feel forming in the dark red lipstick. “And you’re nothing if not an upright citizen.” Which served her just fine since, as of tonight, it was officially legal for him to take her to bed. The thought made her insides twist with nervous pleasure. She didn’t know that much about men, but she’d done a lot of research on the subject of sex. No sense going into anything a total novice, not when one could prepare.
She moved closer to him, the scent of his cologne combined with the musk of man teased her nose. No one smelled like Cade. He was intoxicating. A low pulse began to beat at the apex of her thighs and her nipples peaked. It was always like this when she was around him, and she was finally doing something about it.
“That’s me. I’m just an upstanding kind of guy,” he said with a lopsided grin.
“So how is…how is business going?” she asked, leaning in a little closer to try and catch some of that forbidden scent again.
“It’s going well.” He treated her to a real smile, one that showed his perfect teeth and her heart melted. “Our charters have increased by twenty five percent in the last quarter.”
“Who would have thought that renting out yachts and planes could be such a money maker?”
The teasing glint in his eyes melted her bones. “Well, I did. And I’ve more than paid back everyone who invested in the start up.”
She reached a hand out and put it on his arm. She shivered when his bicep flexed beneath her fingertips. His eyes snapped up and met hers, his expression inscrutable. Her breath hitched.
“Sabrina! Cade!” At that moment Caryn, Sabrina’s best friend, came waltzing out onto the deck, her chin length bob sleek, not a dark hair out of place. Her figure was perfectly sleek too, none of the little bubbles of imperfect flesh destroying her smooth lines.
Her friend grinned and a little dimple appeared by her full lips. She looked back at Cade and saw she’d lost his attention. He moved away from her, the cold left by his retreating body heat had her feeling bereft.
Then he was at Caryn’s side, too close for it to be casual or accidental. He wound his arm around her waist and she flashed him a glowing smile.
Shock slammed her chest with the force of a brick, nearly knocking her back with the weight of it. Caryn looked sheepish, a slight flush covering her cheeks. “I didn’t want to say anything until I knew if it was going to turn into anything,” she said.
“What?” Sabrina’s voice sounded stupid and hollow to her own ears.
Of course Caryn didn’t know about her feelings for Cade, no one did. The sheer weight of what she felt for him, combined with the forbidden aspect of him being her stepbrother, had always kept her from confiding in anyone. But surely she had to be hallucinating. He couldn’t be with Caryn, not that way, not now.
Cade flashed her a wide smile and drew Caryn closer to his body. “We’ve been seeing each other for a couple months.”
“But because of our friendship we didn’t want to say anything in case it didn’t work out,” Caryn finished, her eyes sparkling.
“But since I’ve asked Caryn to marry me and she’s accepted, we thought it would be a good time to tell you.”
“We’re going to be sisters!” Caryn exploded. “Happy Birthday!”
Sabrina felt the hot rush of tears sting her eyes and she knew she couldn’t let them fall. The cake she’d eaten earlier rolled in her stomach and she wanted more than anything to lean over the railing and heave it back up. She swallowed against the suffocating ache that was climbing her throat. “Congratulations.”
Thursday, November 5, 2009
Okay, image is kind of unrelated, I just love this cover*. But really, this guy is pretty hot, can you blame me?
When I received my first revision letter back on Oct. of '08, for the partial MS I had submitted, one of the main things the editor wanted me to change was the way my hero reacted to the heroine, and to the situation in general.
The paragraph on the hero is as follows: An alpha hero is noted for his control of the situations he finds himself in, so in order for him not to lose when she presents her proposal this we need to see a little more from him as a character. Maybe we could see a little more cynicism from him with regard to her proposal? At the moment he seems to weaken a little quickly for a successful businessman. We need to see a little more of the ruthlessness that got him to the top!
Truth be told, I had set out to make something of a kinder, gentler hero, which, I realize now, just doesn't translate to Presents!
So I had three chapters to take my hero and bring him from beta to alpha. So I did a lot of reading on the Harlequin sites about what makes an alpha (see previous post!) and I sat down to see what I could do with Marco, my hero.
This is going to sound really silly, but I swear to you it worked. I looked through a lot of the dialogue and did some very simple changes. The first thing I did was change his questions to commands.
Example: "Will you accompany me?" becomes "You will accompany me." Simple. But effective. And it went a long way in helping me tip the balance of power back to him.
Which is another thing: Nobody puts an alpha in the corner.
My heroine was the instigator of the marriage of convenience in my MS, which forced me to walk a very tricky line, one I didn't walk very well at first, to have it be her proposal, but to have him be the one with the control.
So it helped for me to put it in Marco's POV, so show him taking the proposal and thinking of the ways it could be used to his advantage. I think it was important that the stakes were higher for the heroine. Financially, it was beneficial to Marco, but he was successful on his own. So while it would mean more money for him, the marriage wasn't as necessary for him as it was for her, which reversed the power balance on poor Elaine, my heroine.
As long as the need was greater for her, he held all the cards. She approached him, and plan was hers, but the ultimate terms and conditions were up to him.
The one thing I did not do to make my hero more alpha, was weaken the heroine. Elaine is a strong, independent woman with goals and aspirations and I did not want to sacrifice her strengths in order to make him look stronger. And I didn't need to. A weak heroine doesn't add strength to your hero. If anything, it makes the whole dynamic of the relationship a watered down disaster where the hero really is just a bully and the heroine might as well have 'Welcome' stamped across her forehead.
In fact, I think a strong heroine enhances the hero's alpha-ness. He can get away with a lot more if she's able to stand up for herself, stand her ground.
Adding the alpha to Marco didn't mean adding cruelty, although New Marco did say some things Old Marco would never have dreamed of, but New Marco had that alpha freedom, that ruthless streak that enabled him to speak with such confidence that he would plainly speak his opinions and lay out the reality of a situation without sugar coating.
What's your secret for crafting a deliciously strong alpha male? Share your thoughts on the process!!
*Cover from The Desert King's Bejewelled Bride by Sabrina Philips. If you haven't read it already, then what are you waiting for? Check it out!!