Did you notice the pretty word count meter over on the right? Last week's writers retreat was a huge success for me. I added almost 20K new words on book 3 in Talia's series. I also worked through 90 pages of edits on book 2. There are a few things still to work on in those pages, but things are moving along in the right direction.
There was a time Wednesday evening when I was writing a scene and trying not to cry in front of the other writers. That's when I knew I needed a break. I re-wrote the beginning of the romance short story for a change. Now my characters meet sooner, so bonus!
This is my week over at Unicorn Bell. In the interest of time (meaning I don't have it to plan two separate posts), I'll share the same stuff over there and here. Here's yesterday's post on what I learned about character arcs among other things from a class on writing romance at a conference I attended two weeks ago.
No one would argue that the romance genre is hugely successful as a market. I don't consider myself a romance writer, however all of my books have a thread of romance in them. I took this class because I am giving a romantic short story a go. Maybe you are a romance writer, but even if you're not, there's much to learn from the genre that will improve our own stories. Whether it be science fiction, fantasy, paranormal, horror, contemporary, or any other genre out there.
What Romance Writers Understand
EmotionPeople read romance to feel the emotion of first love all over again. They love the anticipation, the disappointment and subsequent journey to repair the relationship and reunite the lovers, and finally the pay off at the end.
The emotions in our novels might be slightly different, but we all need to ensure our stories are cram-packed with them. If someone picks up a horror tale, they expect to be scared so bad they can't sleep that night without the bathroom light on. Those reading suspense in any form want to be kept guessing while sitting on the edge of their seat in concern for the characters.
Getting the picture?
So how do we ramp up the emotion?
ConflictWe talk about this one all the time on UB, but has it sunk in? Conflict doesn't have to be high speed chases, kidnappers, and explosions in order to keep readers interested. Here's a quick refresher course on the two types of conflict.
External--Something outside of the character (another person, the environment, etc) that forces them to take action or change. This conflict MUST MATTER, not be something stupid (like Sharknado, just saying) that is simply a tool to push your characters somewhere. Make it realistic.
The introduction of the external conflict often brings the internal conflict out into the open. This conflict is solved by external means--they cut the right wire to shut off the bomb, the cops/FBI/CIA/detective catches the bad guy, and so on.
Internal--In many genres, including romance, this is the most important type of conflict. Internal conflict is all about what your character brings to the story intellectually and/or emotionally. It comes from their experiences, beliefs, personalities, and prejudices.
Identity vs. EssenceThis is perhaps the most important concept of them all. It follows perfectly that last statement referring to character growth. Here's the best way to start talking about identity vs essence.
Just like ogres, all of our characters need to have layers. We start with Identity, or how the character sees themselves or how they think the world sees them. As the story progresses, conflict peels away the layers of identity until we are left with Essence--the character's true self. Reaching essence is reaching their potential.
I don't know why, but I'd never considered character arcs quite in that way before. The presenter didn't talk about Shrek, but when she mentioned peeling away the layers to get to the essence that's exactly what I thought of. And it finally clicked. All characters have layers and we have to peel them away in order to reach their potential.
QUESTION For You:
Share one of your favorite character with us and tell briefly how their identity from chapter one changed to essence by the end of the book or series.