~ BALANCING FANTASY & REALITY ~

If I had a mission statement as a romance writer it would be to give readers an uplifting, heart wrenching fantasy, while keeping it believable. I’m a very conscientious about this.

It’s what I require as a reader and so it’s what I strive to give back. I suspect that readers are not going to have a lovely feel-good glow at the end of the book if they’ve been muttering “as if” all the way through it.

So... today I’ll be looking at the delicate line we romance writers tread between fantasy and reality.

How far you swing between these two two poles will depend to a large extent on which line you’re aiming for. Some lines of course, actually create their own fantasy worlds, but in most romance novels,- we want to give the impression of fantastic, fairytale romance happening in the midst of real life.

We want to take the reader out of her every day world, but leave enough realism there for her to feel connected, so that she can imagine herself as the heroine - so she can experience the heroine’s emotions and fall in love with the gorgeous hero.

Today I’d like to start by looking at the two contrasting elements of fantasy and realism separately - First the fantasy. The thrill of attraction and a once in a lifetime love. What kinds of characters help to create a romantic fantasy?

FANTASY

In his book Writing the Breakout Novel, Donald Maas tells us that truly effective characters are LARGER THAN LIFE.

It makes sense doesn’t it? We don’t want to read about people who are as boring as we are. We read fiction to imagine ourselves as we might be.

Now this doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to make your heroes into tycoons, sheiks or playboy princes and your heroines into super models, princesses and heiresses - although they can be any of these things.

There’s no doubt that these types of characters are very popular. They stem from well known archetypes. And because these characters can be incredibly rich or beautiful or powerful, they work well in romance novels. They bring a whole cluster of associated images of glamour and beauty and power and they come with built-in fantasy elements.

But you can also create fantasy when you write about everyday, average characters who work in offices or kindergartens or at home, or in trades like carpenters or garage mechanics. These people can still make it to romantic fantasy level.

And Donald Maas gives us the clue to achieving this - by telling us that we need to identify what is extraordinary in people who are otherwise ordinary.

And these extraordinary elements often come from the characters’ unfulfilled DREAMS, their SECRETS - their GOALS or their DILEMMAS.

We can make ordinary characters fascinating by making them aspire to things beyond our own experience:

- like wanting to work in Antarctica
- or planning a solo journey to a foreign world to search for a missing relative
- or a missing anything for that matter
- or a single woman going alone to a fertility clinic
- a female journalist, who had just been sacked, trying to clinch an exclusive interview with a playboy prince.

As soon as you put an ordinary character in an extraordinary situation, or give them extraordinary goals, you have the makings of fantasy.

Characters with secrets can become characters that are out of the ordinary - which is why secret babies, secret twins, hidden identities and amnesia plots are endlessly popular in romance novels.

One thing that’s important to understand is that you can’t separate character from plot. I’ve never had much time for those character questionnaires where you sit down and decide the character’s name, height, eye colour, religion, type of car etc. before you begin to write.

I don’t think these things are important until you know what your character wants and how she’s going to go about getting it. It’s how characters react to situations that makes them come alive.

Larger than life characters take action. They set about achieving their goals or solving their problems. And this applies to your heroine as much as it does to your hero.

Readers love a character who strives or struggles to achieve a goal. And characters become especially fascinating if they are striving to achieve what seems to be impossible.

In one of my books, A WEDDING AT WINDAROO, my heroine, Piper O’Malley, is an outback jillaroo who has lived an isolated life. She’s a tomboy. She’s had very little contact with world beyond her little valley and she’s very, very ordinary really. But when her story begins, her grandfather is dying and he plans to sell Windaroo, the only home she has ever known - the cattle property she loves. He doesn’t want to leave a slip of a girl with the burden of keeping it going.

Piper is devastated and she figures that an old fashioned guy like her grandfather would let her stay on Windaroo if she had a husband to help her run it.

So she has to find herself a husband. Her problem is that she has absolutely no idea how to start husband hunting.

Because she’s lived a very isolated life in the bush with only a grandfather to raise her, she doesn’t know the first thing about how to start flirting. The guys in her little valley, are the same fellows she’s worked with and knocked around with all her life and they see her as one of them. As she puts it - she has buddy status and that’s all.

So she has quite a battle in front of her. She’s striving to achieve what seems impossible because her upbringing and personality are in direct conflict with her primary goal.

So... interesting characters have goals and they set about achieving them, often against great odds.

Think about the aspects of your character’s personalities and background that will make their goals difficult to achieve. We mustn’t let life be easy for them. (At least not till the end of the book.)

It might seem strange, but the characters’ struggle or suffering becomes part of the fantasy, too.

It’s funny isn’t it, but when we read, we’re totally absorbed by characters who are experiencing the very worries that we go out of our way to avoid in our own lives.

When we watch them tackle these problems heroically, we imagine that we could be that brave, too - if we had to.

Who wants to hear that your fiancé is plotting to kill you?

Who wants to get the sack?

Or to have your lover walk out on you?

But we do these things and worse to our characters.

Why? Because we want the reader to be able to relate to our characters on several levels and we need to make sure there is a lot more happening in their lives than simply Ms Right meeting Mr. Right.

So we give them problems and we make sure they really care about these problems. BUT we don’t let our larger than life characters sit around and feel sorry for themselves.

As I said earlier, we make them DO THINGS. They act. Even if your heroine can’t actually solve her problem, she should be getting on with her life, trying to divert herself or her loved ones, trying to stay positive.

Fantasy characters strive, sometimes they struggle and most definitely they LOVE...

When it comes to the attraction between these larger than life characters - the sizzling chemistry - it’s pretty obvious that one larger-than-life character deserves or attracts another.

There are lots of ways to achieve this, but I’m going to concentrate only one today - - I want to look at the attraction of opposites as just one useful tool.

Big contrasts provide ready made drama. And drama keeps the reader hooked - inside the fantasy.

Think of the dramatic contrast of black and white.

The very essence of romantic fiction is the contrast between testosterone and oestrogen, between masculinity and femininity, between man and woman.

And there are many attraction-of-opposites stories - rich girl and poor boy (or the reverse), beauty and the beast, plain Jane and the playboy, country mouse and city mouse, the expert and the untutored, the lone wanderer and the homebody ... or my favourite the bad boy and the good girl - (or again, possibly the reverse.)

If the hero and heroine are different enough they’ll strike sparks. Romances are all about these differences - two opposites on a journey to becoming two sides of a single whole. For example, Piper, my jillaroo heroine was untutored - so she needed the help of an expert in the art of flirtation.

In all sorts of ways the attraction of opposites provides a ready made recipe for sizzling chemistry and it also provides believable reasons for conflict.

Because I write a lot of Outback romances, I’ve tried the city-country contrast a few times, but in my latest book I pushed this to extremes

Instead of writing about an Australian city girl on a cattle property, I went for the complete fairytale and had a runaway European princess in an isolated drover’s hut in the wilds of the Northern Territory.

Because she’s running for her life, she isn’t willing to reveal her identity at first, so she gets no special royal treatment from the outback hero. He does help to remove the leeches on her legs, but he expects her to check under the toilet seat for red back spiders and to kill them for herself.

Writing about such strongly contrasting characters was great fun, but one of the best examples of the dramatic effect of contrast that I’ve read is Laura Kinsale’s historical novel Flowers From the Storm.

In this book the hero is a Duke. He’s rich and handsome, he likes radical politics and has a fondness for chocolate... and he’s a rake. In the opening scene he’s in bed with another man’s wife.

The heroine, on the other hand, is an exceptionally good and quiet Quaker woman, whose religion abhors worldliness in all its forms.

Laura Kinsale takes the well known juxtaposition of the rake and the innocent to the extreme, but of course, she isn’t writing category romance so she has plenty of time (plus a healthy dollop of genius) to chart the progress of this relationship and believe me, each step of the way is fascinating.

In addition, her hero has the trademark qualities of all larger than life heroes - he is DARING... daring in a sexual way.

There’s always a risk when a romantic scene is read out of context, but I’d like to read you part of a scene from this book to show you just one example of his daring. The very sexually experienced Duke dares to seduce the innocent Maddy right under her father’s nose.

Admittedly Maddy’s father is blind and he’s busily working away at a mathematical problem - (Somehow he’s doing complicated higher mathematics using wooden symbols) - but nevertheless, he’s only a few feet away when this encounter takes place...

So... Maddy’s father is working nearby and she is pressed against the door... mesmerised by the duke.

“.... He dropped his gaze to the whistle dangling at her bodice. The smile became cynical. He touched the silver, toyed with it. Then he lifted it and turned it in his hand. He held the mouthpiece just skimming her lower lip, daring her.

Her rapid breath made a tiny sound come from it, like the distant peep of a lost chick. Her father lifted his head, listening.

“Maddy girl?” he asked.

She turned her mouth from the whistle. “Yes, Papa?”

“I think there may be a sparrow in the chimney. Dost thou hear it?”

Jervaulx lifted his arms, resting his fists on the door frame on either side of her. The chain of the whistle slid and tightened at her throat as he kept it in his hand. He held her trapped, his smile growing into a mocking grin.”

“I don’t hear it.” Maddy pressed her shoulders back against the door - incredible that she didn’t push him away, break free, call out to her papa.

Jervaulx leaned on one arm. He traced the whistle over the curve of her ear, watching what he did with a fascinated openness. He brought the cool silver along her chin, warming the metal with his fingers. The instrument grazed an arc across her lips to the centre of them, and then back to the side; to the centre, and back again.

He leaned forward. Maddy’s breath was singing faintly, unevenly through the silver alarm. He held it against her lips, his fingers spread across her cheek and chin. He bent his head and pressed his mouth to the silver, a kiss with her protection caught and made useless inside.

The whistle slipped from his fingers. She felt it bounce against her breasts as his mouth came to hers. He touched her as the silver had touched her, just a light graze, but warm.

He took modesty and virtue and salvation away from her so easily. She gave it up so easily...”

OK... THERE IS MORE OF THIS and the kiss becomes bolder and their reactions more heated...

THEN... when we are quite swept away, we read...

“Her father sighed and sat back in his chair.”

SUDDENLY we’re reminded that this whole breathless, silent yet sizzling encounter has taken place right next to the heroine’s blind father - almost under his nose. (Flowers from the Storm, pp 118-120)

I found that scene unforgettable. I was already falling for the hero, but his audacity in the presence of seriously “good” and pious people made him even more compelling and attractive for me.

So when it comes to creating a romantic fantasy, I’m recommending larger than life characters, characters with goals, who act and who dare. And I’m suggesting that you consider using contrasts between your hero and heroine as a dramatic device that will trigger great attraction and strong conflict.

REALISM

Now I’m going to look a little more closely at ways of ensuring that these fantasy characters and the conflict that keeps them apart for most of the book - seem credible.

While Flowers from the Storm is fresh in your mind I should add that this book also provides a wonderful example of how fantasy and realism can combine. The fantastic, bad boy hero has a stroke. He is partly paralysed and has great difficulty speaking. In the days when this book is set, someone so debilitated was considered to be mad and he is sent to an asylum where the heroine, Maddy, nurses him. She helps him on the long journey back to health.

The fantasy lies in the growing attraction of this rather wicked, rich man for the good, innocent girl. The realism comes with his illness and Maddy’s spiritual struggles as she falls in love with this earthly, sinful man.

Laura Kinsale must have researched this book in amazing detail, to make these historical characters so realistic. I know that our two Rita finalists Lillian Darcy and Marion Lennox gave a workshop in Melbourne about research a few years back. They both write medical romances as well as contemporaries and they learned very early in their careers how effective research can be in making their characters true to life and interesting.

A bonus of research is that it can provide you with extra story ideas, but also, it can give you the confidence of knowing your story is authentic. If you’ve researched your characters and their setting thoroughly, you feel a greater sense of authority as you write - your work will have the ring of conviction. And your story will seem more real.

Although I didn’t grow up in the outback, I’ve spent many holidays camping and canoeing in the outback and visiting cattle properties, so I felt fairly familiar with the country. But last year, I wanted to know more about the day to day working life of a cattleman, so I visited a cattle property near Roma to do some research. I went to the Roma cattle sales. They’re the biggest sale yards in the Southern hemisphere, by the way - and I stayed up at night to watch the cattle my hosts had bought being off-loaded from the road train and yarded. And then I “helped” next morning as the cattle were ear-tagged, inoculated and branded.

I used every ounce of that experience in my next book and because I’d been there and experienced it all, the book flowed almost effortlessly onto the page.

Stephen King tells us that readers love interesting details about people’s work. Nora Roberts has spoken many times about how extensively she uses the Internet to research interesting careers for her characters.

In her novel Homeport, her heroine is an archeometrist. Nora Roberts found everything she wanted to know about archeometry on the Internet. The heroine, Miranda specialises in authenticating art from the Renaissance period - and in this book she’s trying to authenticate a bronze believed to have been a lost work of Michelangelo’s.

Of course Nora Roberts doesn’t overload us with technical details, but cleverly seeds them into the narrative. I’ll give you a brief example.

“Miranda retested the dirt from the site first, measuring the radiation, running figures. Once again she tested the clay that had been carefully extracted. She put a smear of each on a slide, then made a third with the scraping of bronze and patina, and studied each under a microscope.

She was studying her computer screen when the first of the staff began to trickle in. It was there Giovanni hunted her down with a fresh cup of coffee and a delicately sugared roll.

“Tell me what you see,” she demanded, and continued to study the colours and shapes on the screen.

“I see a woman who doesn’t know how to relax.” He laid his hands on her shoulders, rubbed gently. “Miranda, you’ve been here a week now, and you haven’t taken an hour to yourself.”

“The imaging, Giovanni.”

Can you see how much Nora Roberts has achieved in that short passage? Not only has she drawn us deeper into the world of archeometry through simple but specific details of the science involved, but she’s reinforced important details about Miranda’s character as well - we know she’s an early riser. We see her strength of will and dedication to this task as well as her tendency to be bossy - and with the name Giovanni and the brief mention of the “delicately sugared roll” we are reminded that this scene takes place in Italy and not America.

Layers are being added to this character - we pick up details about her behaviour, her goals, her interaction with others, and her setting.

These LAYERS are another very important device in creating characters. They work in two ways - they build credibility piece by piece and they gain momentum to create accelerating impact.

Another trick to consider contrasts within the character. It can be particularly effective to show how a character’s deeper elements contradict the outer layer - the superficial picture. Robert McKee in his screen-writing bible, Story, gives the example of James Bond who seems on the surface to be a lounge lizard playboy, but beneath this he is a thinking man’s Rambo.

In Liz Fielding’s The Ordinary Princess, her arrogant, autocratic Prince has a gentle and sensitive heart of gold.

In Nora Robert’s Homeport the hero is the handsome, rich, highly intelligent owner of an art gallery in New York - but he is also - wait for it - an art thief. But I guess only someone with Nora’s formidable talent can turn a thief into a believable hero. (Unless it’s Anne Gracie turning a heroine into one.)

This hero thief raises another interesting point - interesting, believable characters are not perfect. They are vulnerable and they make mistakes. Their vulnerability and mistakes help to create a sense of realism.

We bring heroes and heroines down off their pedestals and give them feet of clay. Even Alpha and Ultra-Alpha heroes have their vulnerable streaks.

In one of my most successful books, my movie director hero is trying to be ultra macho in the outback, but he’s not experienced at driving on rough outback roads and he ends up totalling the vehicle - and launching himself and the heroine into danger. He’s very foolish - and he admits this.

Later, it’s the heroine’s turn to make a mistake. The next day when she and her boss are lost and absolutely exhausted and hungry, he catches some fresh water crayfish for their dinner and Grace, who prides herself on being clever, accidentally loses their dinner out of the trap he’d set.

Maybe I’m mean, but I like making my characters make mistakes. I believe they are more endearing - and they add a little credibility to the fantasy.

Another important thing to remember about realistic characters is that they CHANGE. Their story should take them on a psychological journey. And apart from whatever else might be happening in the book, meeting the hero or heroine should change them.

In Flowers from the Storm, the Duke is transformed by his love for the pure and innocent Maddy and he realises how shallow his past encounters have been, while she discovers the power of earthly passion.

The writer’s task is to gradually transform two very different and conflicting people into sincere and genuine lovers by the end of the book. And to make these changes realistic, and we should stage them through the book, so that they don’t suddenly seem to change on the last couple of pages. And it’s a good idea to signpost the changes - so the reader doesn’t miss them. You can even have a character stop to reflect on how he or she has changed.

In my book A Parisian Proposition, there is an overriding obvious and simple conflict at the start. The heroine is a career oriented city girl and the hero is an outback cattleman. And this simple city mouse-country mouse difference causes Jonno and Camille more than enough problems in the early chapters.

However, their conflict becomes deeper and our ideas about Camille’s character deepen as we learn more about her. She isn’t just any city girl, she’s an ultra contemporary and determined to remain single - city girl. She’s definitely not looking for marriage or children.

In fact she tells the hero, Jonno: “... while most girls spend their lives searching for Mr. Right, I’ve spent the past ten years terrified that I might find him.

Why is she terrified?

This question WHY is perhaps the most important question of all when it comes to creating realism in your book. Why is your character behaving this way? Why does she has certain goals? What is motivating her behaviour?

If you aren’t asking this question, you should, because you can be certain your reader will be. And she’ll want answers.

MOTIVATION is the secret key ingredient to creating believable characters.

Sometimes the motivation will be a recent incident that has caused your character a problem, but often it will stem from something that has happened in the past.

There is a deep seated reason for my heroine Camille’s attitude to marriage and families. Her parents were entertainers (ballet dancers in fact) and when she was little thay travelled the world dragging her with them through an endless circuit of rehearsals and hotel lobbies and plane journeys and although her parents danced beautifully together on stage, their marriage was unhappy - with endless heated arguments and fights. Camille’s childhood was unhappy and her parents separated when she was in her teens and this left scars.

In Flowers from the Storm the motivation for Maddy to help Jervaulx in his recovery is her very strong belief that God is calling her to do so.

And there was a reason why Miranda, the archeometrist in Homeport has become an overachiever. Again, he unpbringing is the culprit. She has never been able to win the approval of her hard, unloving mother.

If you provide a believable reason for your character’s behaviour, you can have them do the most unexpected things.

So I would urge you to give a great deal of thought to your characters’ MOTIVATIONS and make them crystal clear.

Let’s take an example... Say you have this great idea for a character who wants to get to the top of her professional ladder. She’s so focused on her career, she doesn’t have time to be sidetracked by love.

You have to ask yourself WHY she’s so fiercely ambitious. It can be helpful to brain storm several possibilities before you hit on the best reason to fit your story.

Sometimes your character isn’t aware of what is driving his or her behaviour, but you should know - and the reader needs to know.

Usually motivation is driven by emotion. It could stem from

  • loyalty... is your character wanting to please someone?
  • morality ... is this person seeking justice? wanting to right a wrong?
  • love ... perhaps a child or family member is in need?
  • fear ... has your character been damaged by past experiences?

As you think about these, you will begin to see more reasons why this character is so driven ...

  • is she a single mum who wants security for her child?

  • is she trying to resurrect her family’s good name after an injustice?

  • is she supporting a sick family member?

  • is birth order a factor? - is she the firstborn high achiever?

  • or alternatively, is she the baby of a family where the focus has been on her older siblings and does she want to surprise her parents?

Your choice should be the reason that best suits your story purpose. Sometimes you won’t know the answer when you start writing, but at some point you will need to know it ... and show it.

Now I’ve been talking about the heroine, but the hero must be strongly motivated, too. However sometimes, his motivation can change after he meets the heroine - then he might become motivated by his feelings for her. We love to see men moved by the unexpected power of love, don’t we?

In A Parisian Proposition, as I’ve explained, Camille has hang-ups about marriage, but Jonno, the hero doesn’t. He has grown up in the country in a happy, well balanced family and he expects to marry one day, and because he wants Camille very much, he pursues her. He pursues her after she returns to Sydney and then he comes after her all the way to Paris.

And finally, he offers her a commitment free relationship - no strings attached.

He leaves her a message: “Camille, I want you. I need you. We can do this any way you like as long as you’re mine.” And he tells her: “I’m not asking for marriage or babies. Just us. You and me.”

So they have a thoroughly modern affair. In Paris. (Lucky things)

But I couldn’t let them get away as easily as that.

I talked earlier about characters who suffer. When you near the end of your book, don’t be in too much of a hurry to end their suffering. If you can give them one last problem, you can really crank up the emotional impact of your ending.

Just when Jonno thinks he’s won Camille around, an external problem ( a SECRET - something from his past that even he didn’t know about) comes on the scene - and suddenly Camille realises that she will lose Jonno unless she confronts her deepest fears.

Can you see why I said earlier that character and plot can’t be separated?

In Story Robert McKee tells us that powerful, realistic characters make CHOICES - difficult choices. He adds that choices made when nothing is at risk mean little. Characters become interesting when there are progressively building pressures that force them into more difficult choices - and the choice they make reveals the true depth of their character. Perhaps at this point they have to overcome their inner demons.

If our readers have become convinced that our hero and heroine are meant for each other, they will be desperate for them to make the right decision at this point.

So the device of the final decision or choice can be a very effective way to round off one of your characters - usually the character who has been holding back for some reason.

It can be especially effective if that final choice challenges a cardinal quality of your character’s personality.

Memorable characters often have to overcome a major fear or take a leap in faith or risk losing something very important. One of my favourite examples of this is Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities when Sidney Carlton goes to the guillotine in place of Charles Darnay.

In a romance, the characters faced with difficult choices usually risk losing that once in a lifetime GREAT LOVE.

In Flowers from the Storm Maddy has to make a huge and difficult choice at the end of the book between her religion and Jervaulx.

Of course, we know in a romance what the choice will be, but the trick is to make that moment of decision as tense and emotion packed as possible.

And to make the choice believable.

As we near the end of the book we are writing, we have to convince our reader that these two contrasting and conflicting characters are reaching a point where their sexual attraction is growing into to love - lasting love. The readers need to be sure that these two are really meant for each other.

This is the final test of credibility.

So it’s very important that you’ve given the hero and heroine a point of connection that goes deeper than sexual sparks.

If you’ve constructed two very different, contrasting characters, you also need to make sure that they have aspects of their personality - personal qualities - that meet each other’s needs.

For example in my European princess in the outback story, the princess has a background of charity work in hospitals and her particular interest is giving comfort to the dying - especially to vagrants brought in off the streets, who have no family or loved ones to support them.

The hero on the other hand has been grieving for the past three years. He lost both his wife and his baby daughter in childbirth. He’s buried himself in grog and hard work, and he’s rejected the well meaning attempts of friends to comfort him.

But it is the heroine, with her special knowledge and understanding of death, who is able to reach him and to help him to heal.

This experience of death becomes their point of connection. And once that connection takes root, they are able to act on the powerful sexual attraction they’ve been denying until now.

Their sexual needs are complemented by emotional needs. I can’t remember who said it, but I have a quote that says: Sexual need bound with emotional need and respect = powerful feelings.

And that’s what we want at the end of a romance - powerful feelings that keep the fantasy in tact right to the last word.

CONCLUSION

The final point I want you to think about is you - the writer. Because you can listen to all the writing tips in the world but ultimately, your characters are an extension of you. They spring from your unique personality and your imagination.

To be interesting to the reader, the characters must fascinate you, too. To have lifelike, exciting characters, they must capture and seize your IMAGINATION.

One very practical way to make this more likely is to try to minimise the gaps between writing sessions. I know this isn’t easy when you have a family and a real job and a real life getting in the way, but if you can write as often as possible, you stay in contact with your characters and their world and they develop a momentum that brings them to life.

Stephen King tells us in his book On Writing that while a book is in progress, he writes every day. Every day - even Christmas. (I know - it’s all very well for blokes- they don’t have to cook Christmas dinner, do they?) King says that if the gaps between writing are too long, the characters begin to stale off in his mind and they begin to feel like characters instead of real people.

For me, it’s important to get inside my characters’ skin, to be there in the situation, feeling, seeing, smelling what my characters are experiencing - feeling their suffering.

I think it is perfectly valid to use any tricks you can to help you let go of your everyday cares and drift into the imaginary world of your characters. Experiment with what works best for you. You might find it helpful, as Sherry-Anne Jacobs does, to lie in bed and visualise the next scene that you’re going to write. Let it unroll like a movie in your head. Hear the dialogue, see the setting.

I also find it helpful to collect pictures of the setting and characters to keep my mood and feelings in tune with the story and its unique atmosphere. I surround myself with these as I work, so that they are with me as constant reminders.

For a long time I avoided using music because I thought it would distract me, but I’ve tried it again lately and found that listening to music (without words - usually classical, because that’s what I like) - it touches my emotions and keeps me focused - it helps to transport me into the world of my characters. In other words it enhances my imagination.

Now I’m going to shock you, because I’m going to leave you by saying: Don’t take too much notice of all that I’ve just said.

I don’t mean that I’ve been talking rubbish. In fact I try very hard to make sense, and I hope it’s been helpful, but I think there can be a danger when you go to conferences and conscientiously take notes that you go home and think, Oh, God - I’ve got to have more X in my novel and less Y, and I really should strengthen A B and C...

And you can lose sight of your own voice - your own vision. It’s like the Great Gorgonzola theory of one of Brisbane’s popular chefs. One evening when a patron was leaving the restaurant, the manager asked him if he enjoyed his meal and he said “Yes, I had the gnocchi gorgonzola and it was great, but I would have liked a little less gorgonzola. It was a bit too strong.”

This was relayed to the chef and so next day, he reduced the amount of cheese. But you know what happened, don’t you? That evening a patron complained because the gorgonzola in the gnocchi wasn’t strong enough.

And the chef realised that he couldn’t try to please everyone. He had to be true to his own vision.

And that message is important for writers, too. Read hundreds of romance novels and learn to identify what it is about them that you love - what kinds of characters fascinate you? What balance between fantasy and reality works best for you? Listen to all the advice - but finally believe in your own vision. Because that’s what will make your story stand out from the pack so your fantasy of being published can become a reality.

All articles copyright © Barbara Hannay, not to be reproduced without permission.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

             
 

 

 

 

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Writing the Breakout Novel

 

by Donald Maass

 

Flowers From the Storm

 

by Laura Kinsale

 

Homeport

 

by Nora Roberts

 

On Writing

 

by Steven king

 

The Ordinary Princess

 

by Liz Fielding

 

Story

 

by Robert McKee

 

A Tale of Two Cities

 

by Charles Dickens

 

 
 

 

 
 

 

A WEDDING AT WINDAROO.

 

 

 

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A PARISIAN PROPOSITION

 

 

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