Jilly: Chemistry Lesson

Chemistry LessonI’m looking for recommendations, please. I need inspiration, and I’m looking for great friends-to-lovers, colleagues-to-lovers, or even enemies-to-lovers stories. A hero and heroine who haven’t previously been lovers, but who have a long shared back-story; characters with a strong underlying connection who don’t think of each other that way, until they finally get a nudge in the right direction and…light fuse and stand well back.

It’s been a frustrating week at Casa Jilly. As predicted, my honeymoon period with the new WIP (read my January post full of dewy-eyed optimism here) didn’t last very long. I’m happy with the characters and the broad strokes of the story, but so far I can’t get the first scene to a good place. I know it will need multiple re-writes, but if I can nail the basics now, it will make my life sooo much easier in the weeks and months ahead.

The premise is fine. In my head, it’s a riot. On the page, not so much.

The good news is that at least I’m not making the same basic mistakes I made the last time around.

🙂 The heroine and hero are on the page together immediately. Yes! The first scene is Mary, the Executive Assistant and all-round miracle worker at Gilded Lily v. Cam, her stand-in boss and acting CEO.

🙂 There’s a juicy bone of contention: a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Gilded Lily. Mary knows that her regular boss (Ian) would kill for a shot at it. She has no doubt they have to go all in, but the person who’d have to lead the charge is Cam, and he has no intention of betting the farm while Ian’s away. He intends to play safe and hand the business back in the exact same shape Ian left it.

🙂 The scene is a microcosm of the book. The main plot is Mary and Cam’s love story; this initial confrontation establishes their characters, their personal chemistry, the obstacles to their becoming life-long lovers, and offers a hint as to how the problem might be resolved. From a craft perspective all the elements are in place. When I’ve solved the other problems, I should be making the right story promise.

So far, so good.

😦 My problem is that right now, Cam and Mary are not people you’d want to spend time with. They have engaging personalities, but you wouldn’t know by reading this turkey of a scene. They talk at one another. Mary tracks Cam down and says ‘Hot news! We should do this.” Cam says, “Hell, no, we won’t.” “Should.” “Shouldn’t.” “Yes.” “No.” If I try to elaborate, it turns into sniping and cheap shots which make her read like a nagging bitch to his passive slob.

As a love story promise, these two are doomed. There’s zero chance of them being credible as a couple. I can imagine their future twenty years hence. He’ll be buried behind the newspaper. She’ll be haranguing him about household jobs he hasn’t done, and he’ll be ignoring her. Not exactly the HEA I’m seeking to project.

I have a few theories about what might be wrong, and I’m going to work through them until I fix this. I think a big part of my problem is that I haven’t figured out how to set up characters who already know each other well, or think they do. In Dealing With McKenzie, the reader met Ian and Rose as they met one another, so the story was a mutual voyage of discovery. It’s different with Cam and Mary. They’ve known each other for a decade, they’re bringing a boatload of preconceptions into the story, and I have to get those in to play right away while simultaneously bringing the reader up to speed.

I’ve spent a whole week trying different takes on this scene, and I hate them all. I need a break, and I’m thinking today would be well spent reading a great romance, or two, or three, by writers who can show me how to nail this.

I’m thinking of starting with the romance sub-plot of Jenny Crusie’s Crazy For You: the hero and heroine live and work in the same small town, and he’s her sister’s ex. That’s the kind of story I need, not unfinished business ones about characters who come back to town and pick up the pieces from long ago. I love those, but it’s not what I’m looking for today.

So – do you have any recommendations? Please help my Girls get their act together. They (and I) would be most grateful. Thank you!

22 thoughts on “Jilly: Chemistry Lesson

  1. When Harry Met Sally is the classic friends to lovers story — but that starts with them as strangers, so it doesn’t quite fit in with what you want, I think. Maybe you can start the movie after they meet again in the bookstore (-:.

    I think Georgette Heyer’s Cotillion is another friends-to-lovers (unless I’ve got the wrong book). The heroine has known Freddie forever — in fact, he may even be a cousin, Their baggage is part of the plot — they make assumptions even though they have changed since they played together as children.

    Oh! And somewhere in the Harry Potters, Hermione and Ron become a couple. And there’s Harry and Ginny, but I don’t feel that was very well-developed. She’d been crushing on him since she met him. And then all of a sudden, they were a couple. I don’t trust the epilogue. I don’t think they stay together. Oh, and Harry’s mother and father. Not developed on the page, but might be a springboard for mental fanfic that may provide an answer.

    I wonder where you would put that tipping point in a romance novel? I suspect the first page might be the best place. One is looking at the other, the world tilts for just a minute and s/he thinks, “S/he is The One.” And, knowing the conventions of fiction, shakes it off as a momentary delusion (but knowing your writing, s/he may do something completely new and surprising with that realization). But with a first draft, you’d probably want to start waaaay before that so you can figure out what is going on.

    • Thanks for the suggestions, Michaeline. Cotillion is the right book, and it’s one of my favorite Heyers, but I think of that as an engagement of convenience story. They are cousins, and they don’t think of each other as potential lovers, but they haven’t met often and they don’t know each other well. What I’m after is more like getting to know a co-worker, maybe somebody you’ve worked closely with day-in, day-out, for years, and suddenly realising you don’t know them at all. And then realising that you’re attracted to them. Eek! I’ve seen it happen twice in real life, and both times it was disorienting for everyone involved, particularly the lovers themselves.

      This may be a shocking admission, but I haven’t read the last one (two?) Harry Potter books, so the romance elements passed me by. I loved the first ones, but I got lost in the middle somewhere and never went back to finish the series. Dunno why.

      I hadn’t thought of When Harry Met Sally (doh). I think I’m going to try to find the script, which was written by Nora Ephron. I love her writing. I bet it’s genius. Then maybe I’ll watch. Thanks!

  2. Since you stipulated that enemies to lovers was okay, I’ll throw in SEP’s Ain’t She Sweet (my favorite, except for that epilogue). They know each other well and they have deeply-rooted beliefs about each other. Although I guess it’s a leave-town-and-come-back story, which you didn’t want. I’ll think on this some more and if I come up with anything, I’ll be back.

    • My favorite SEP, too, Jeanne, and agreed about the epilogue. It’s not quite the same, because it’s a leave-town-and-come-back story, and also because deep-rooted beliefs about Sugar Beth are true, it’s just that she comes back a changed person. Any excuse to read that book, though, there’s so much good stuff in there, it’s bound to spark an idea or two.

      What I should have realised (and clearly didn’t) is that there’s a lotta scope in this trope 🙂 .
      I’m also very happy that the excellent books that immediately spring to mind don’t follow the same path as the one I’m writing.

  3. Hey Jilly, just spit-balling here, but maybe the tipping point Micki mentioned happens because they see each other out of their normal element, i.e., the job. Maybe she finds out about the hot opportunity on a Saturday and has to track him down somewhere unexpected, which allows her to see him in a different light, even if just for a moment. And maybe she shows up in her jeans and tennis shoes, with her hair literally down because she didn’t have time to ‘suit up’.

    I’ve actually had that moment of seeing co-workers completely differently when we’ve had Saturday meetings. Frex, a guy who was a bit of a blowhard during the workweek showed up in his shorts and sneakers, ready to coach his daughter’s soccer team. Just being out of his business attire seemed to adjust his attitude, and we all preferred ‘Saturday Jason’ to ‘normal Jason’ (although there was no romantic spark with anyone, as far as I know – just a ‘seeing you in a new light’ reaction).

    • VERY good guess, Nancy 🙂 . She finds out about the hot opportunity at 9pm on a Saturday night and tracks him down to the village pub. Definitely no tipping point that night; it comes later and it happens at different times for each of them. A Saturday Jason moment is exactly the kind of thing I’m thinking of!

    • Got somethin’! Today, free on Kindle, a book that looks promising: Tucker (The Family Simon Book 1). In it, the hero and heroine have known each other for a year before he needs a date for a wedding. The hero has been warned off by her older brother, because the siblings work in the family bar and the hero is a customer. That might be an interesting read.

      I was going to post a link, but no matter which link variation I use, Amazon pops up some jinormous cover deal with a teensy button that is driving me crazy. So, sorry! You’ll have to search for it yourself. 😦

  4. Nora Roberts Tears of the Moon is a friends-to-lovers story. The movie Gigi is too, but probably not what you’re looking for since she is a teenage girl in training to be a courtesan in turn of the century Paris (but it did win best picture and Leslie Caron and Louis Jourdan are always wonderful).

      • One of the things that might work for your story is the way that Brenna accepts Shawn’s dreamy quality. He’s very creative and often wanders off in the presence of people if a song idea comes to him – very like Cam and what’s important to him. Roberts very clearly shows it as a flaw – he’s late to work, burns the food, forgets the time, etc., but Brenna recognizes his personality (genius) and can accept it.

        • I think you’re right, this book could be a great way to get my Girls back on track. Cam and Mary’s strengths and weaknesses are complementary, and she’s the organised, pushy one. Cam’s not dreamy, but he is easy-going, coasts on his looks and charm, does exactly what he wants to do and leaves other people to clear up the rest. A big part of their romance arc is finding a dynamic that works for them both.

    • I love Gigi . . . even though the premise is so “women are chattel”. It’s true to a certain extent — instead of being chattel to men, we’re chattel to work (if we’ve got the wrong day job). A good marriage is better than a bad dayjob, IMO, but I would love to have a great marriage and a great job . . . .

      Since your girl, Jilly, is working for the family business, I don’t think that “I’ve got to save her from the horrible business!” meme is going to work. Unless she starts thinking that taking the Big Opportunity to a competitor (Sasha? Sasha? Gosh, I love Sasha.) might be the best path to take or something. Then Cam could save her from Sasha.

      • I’ve never seen Gigi. Better add that to my list!

        Mary loves her job, but she is chattel to her feelings. She could (should?) take on a much bigger, tougher job, but her heart and loyalty are with the Kinross family, and she belongs in the Highlands. Our Girl is resourceful, and she finds a way to make the Big Opportunity happen, but that’s just the beginning of the fun and games. And (just for you 🙂 ) Sasha gets involved, and she’s still very, very angry about being defeated by Ian and Rose.

  5. Posting days late Jilly to say that I keep mulling over this friends to lovers business, but can’t think of any where at least one of the parties isn’t secretly keen on the other (rather than just platonic or indifferent). I am absolutely sure I have read some though… most annoying.

  6. Pingback: Jilly: If You Can’t Go Forward, Go Back | Eight Ladies Writing

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