Jeanne: Help a Writer Out

It seems to me that the second-chance-at-love trope, by its very nature, calls for more backstory than fresh-out-of-the-box romance. (Even Jenny Crusie, who dislikes backstory more than any other writer I’ve ever known, wound up including a dash of it in Maybe This Time, her second-chance-at-love romance.)

question-mark-1872665_640Possibly because I had a bias against backstory drilled into me during the McDaniel program, I tend to minimize it in my books. But if you have characters who were once together and broke up for some reason and you’re now attempting to join them back together, I think the reader needs to know what caused problems the first time around.

And if they’re going to achieve a happy-ever-after ending, readers need to know what caused their problems the first time around so they can watch for the character arcs that will address those problems.

Right now, the main characters in The Demon Wore Stilettos (cover reveal coming soon!) broke up because she got him to help her negotiate a contract to sell her soul to Satan by telling him it was a literary exercise for her MFA program.  Underneath, though, the bigger issue is that she tends to conceal information and he has a driving need to expose the truth.

This shows up as a problem from the first time they meet, in the scene below:

He remembered the first time he set eyes on her, behind the counter at the Nous Espresso bar on campus. Under the overhead lights, her hair looked like sunshine made solid. He returned to the café a dozen times over the next week, looking for her, but she remained elusive. When he finally saw her again, he wasted no time asking her if she’d like to grab a cup of coffee after her shift. She stared at him without answering.

“I can come back with friends who will vouch that I’m not a serial killer,” he said.

She didn’t crack a smile. “People know less about their friends than they think they do. You could be a serial killer and they’d never know it.” She looked at him for another long moment before pointing to some tables along the far wall of the cafe, “I’ll meet you over there at nine.”

Their date went nothing like other first dates he’d experienced. Most girls chattered away about themselves, but she volunteered nothing. It was only after what felt like a cross examination of a hostile witness that he learned she was from the Twin Cities.

“Me, too,” he said, assuming that would create a connection and advance his cause.

Instead, her face had gone expressionless. She gathered up her things. “I have to go.”

He stared at her, confused. “Did I say something wrong?”

 She shook her head. “I have an early class tomorrow.”

It took months of hanging around the café to get her to go out with him again. He would have given up, but each time she waited on him, it felt like she thawed a little. Each smile he drew from her felt like a major accomplishment. He put almost as much effort into wooing her as he did into his studies. Since he was a third-year law student, that was saying something.

The reason she walked away when she learned he was from Minneapolis-St. Paul was because she is so ashamed of her family history that she has built a false identity to cover up who she really is. And she figures someone from the Twin Cities is far more likely to discover her lie than someone who’s not from there.

They were living together when he finally realized the contract was real and dumped her for lying. (Not to mention being Hellbound.)

So, somehow, he convinced her to go out with him again.

This is where the “help a writer out” part comes into play.

What can my hero (he’s a third-year law student) do or say to convince this very closed-off girl (she’s an MFA student in creative writing) to risk trusting him?

Image by qimono on Pixabay.


14 thoughts on “Jeanne: Help a Writer Out

  1. That’s a toughie. She can’t trust people, because the person she knows best (herself) is very untrustworthy. Under what circumstances is she true-blue and loyal? That might be the key to what she needs to believe he’s true.

    • Sometimes I forget how brilliant you are. You’re right, of course. At the core of her distrust for others is the knowledge that she herself can’t be trusted. The one thing she’s true-blue about is family, weirdly enough. She has a younger sister she’d die (or sell her soul) for.

      Now I just need to think what form that proof could take.


      • Aw, shucks, LOL. Nice to know I can balance out my dumb-as-a-box-of-rocks moments (-:.

        Now I would say, how does he know the younger sister? Is it possible that he was a teacher or a mentor for Little Sis, and he’s very, very concerned about her for the same reasons Big Sis is? I was going to say he might be an ex- of Little Sis, but that’s not going to work in a romance, really. (I have seen it work, but usually someone winds up gay, so the “relationship” is absolutely no threat to the main hero/heroine romance.)

        • At the time of this flashback, Kendra (aka Little Sis) has dropped out of high school and run off to AZ with her boyfriend. Later, Megan gets a call saying Kendra is in jail for possession with intent to distribute. As close as James ever gets to knowing about her is when Megan asks if he knows any lawyers who would take on a pro bono case, but he doesn’t realize the proposed client is Megan’s sister till years later.

          It’s turning out to be an interesting experiment to write a character who’s so close-mouthed, because it not only affects what she tells other characters, it also affects what she tells readers, making it really challenging to decide what she’d reveal in any given situation. Always way less than what I personally would, because I’m kind of a blabbermouth.

        • Aw! I got a flash of Darcy there for a minute, but I guess it’s not to be, if James never really knows about the sister.

          I’m sure you’ll get it to work out, though! LOL, I’m a blabbermouth, too. Never could be a liar, because I blurt all the time.

          (-: Is it even possible for a close-mouthed person to become a writer? Maybe.

  2. You might consider a dark spot in his character (thinking of that Damon Suede workshop in a box we attended together)–what if HE, too, has a dark secret he has never been able to share? She has shame because of her “family history”–so I don’t know if that’s her or one of her family members. He might have family shame as well, something he thought he was LONG over, so he thinks it’s a safe reveal to her to show that even straight-arrow law students sometimes lie. His family isn’t so perfect, either, or something new he learned. Maybe an uncle he thought had died, only to learn was incarcerated, living in another state, when one of his aunts digs into family genealogy. If that dark spot is in the same family as hers, that’s part of what could make her willing to try again.

  3. He unconsciously brings her something she really wants/needs. Not necessarily an actual thing – could be a service, information, whatever. Maybe it is helpful to her sister. Or the date he asks her on gets her into something that is useful to her or that she needs. The thing doesn’t have to be the thing that gets her to trust him completely, just the thing that gets her to say yes to go out with him again.

  4. Hmm. It’s hard to tell from the sample what he sees in her, other than that he likes her hair. What draws him to her? What quality? What action? What does he like? Why does he want to pursue her? And then maybe he could demonstrate that quality also, or appeal to that quality in her.

  5. I’m just catching up on 8LW posts on Saturday, and I have so many thoughts about this one, Jeanne! Too many for the comments section, so I’ll put them into my own post coming up this week. A quick preview: I just released a second-chance love story so have been through some of these same exercises; one of the books we read during our McD courses handled this with an entire flashback section of the book; and Lisa Cron has an entirely different view of backstory than Jenny and some other writing teachers and her philosophy might be helpful to you.

  6. Pingback: Nancy: In Praise of Backstory – Eight Ladies Writing

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