Jeanne: Goal, Motivation and Conflict

Anyone who has ever read Deb Dixon’s brilliant book, Goal, Motivation and Conflict is familiar with these concepts as they relate to plotting fiction. Your protagonist and your antagonist must each have a goal–a specific, measurable, time-bound objective they want to achieve, motivation–a reason why failing to achieve that goal will result in actual or psychological death, and conflict–something (related to the other character’s goal) that is keeping them from achieving their goal.

In addition to having an external goal (Slay the dragon! Save the homestead from foreclosure!) your characters also need internal arcs–goals, motivations and conflicts–that allow them to achieve some kind of psychological growth.

When I first learned about GMC back at McDaniel, I felt like I could see how story worked for the first time. A while back I put together a spreadsheet that lets me track internal and external GMC for each character in my story but I found I still had problem figuring what goes in which column.

I’m currently taking a class with Linnea Sinclair and Stacey Kade (Who are amazing. If you have an opportunity to take a class with them, do it!) Based on what I’ve learned in the class, I’ve amended the headers in my spreadsheet and I’m finding it much easier to understand what goes where.

  • External Goal (Something tangible to achieve)
  • External Motivation (May be personal, but should be on the surface)
  • External Conflict (Related to the opposing character)
  • Internal Goal (What character needs to learn)
  • Internal Motivation (rooted in her backstory)
  • Internal Conflict (aka The Big Lie)

Do my parenthetical descriptions line up with your understanding of external and internal GMC? If not, how/where do you differ?

Jeanne: The Proud Guys

As discussed last week, Samael, the hero in my work-in-progress, suffers from the deadly sin of Pride.

As part of my research for the character, I asked the other Eight Ladies for book recommendations. They came up with some great suggestions! Today, I’m going to talk about some of them.

The Misunderstood Proud Guy

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

Mr. Darcy is the “pride” character mentioned in the title. He is wealthy, owns an estate and is the object of all the matchmaking mothers in Longbourn, where he’s visiting a friend. When he haughtily refuses to dance with the heroine, Elizabeth Bennet, she takes him in instant dislike.

Over the course of the book, though, it becomes clear that he is a good man. Much (though not all) of of what people view as pride is really a combination of introversion and shyness.

The Broken Proud Guy

Lord of Scoundrels by Loretta Chase

Sebastian Leslie Guy de Ath Ballister, aka Dain, prides himself on his bad behavior. The product of a very bad marriage that resulted in his mother abandoning his father (and him) when he was eight years old, followed by years at prep school being tortured by other boys, leaves him with the conviction that he was damned from birth. When his father dies and he inherits the estate and title, he decides to live out that belief.

Miss Jessica Trent has helped rear ten male cousins, so boys behaving badly are nothing new to her. Over the course of a very enjoyable 357 pages, she brings Dain to heel and mends him.

The Redeemable Proud Guy

Heaven, Texas by Susan Elizabeth Phillips

The gods were smiling the day Bobby Tom Denton was born. Smart, good-looking, gifted at business, irresistible to women and an exceptional athlete, he had it all until an unlucky tackle in the Super Bowl ended his football career. Although he’s ridiculously generous to friends and acquaintances, who are more than willing to take advantage of his generosity., he doesn’t let anyone get close to him.

Gracie Snow was not born under the same star. Average-looking, badly dressed, nearly broke and a thirty-year-old virgin, she was raised in a nursing home. She’s much more at home with old people than a hot young bachelor.

When an odd feeling of connection leads Bobby Tom to consider helping Gracie shed her virgin status, he eradicates the feeling by telling himself it’s beneath him to have sex with a “charity case.”

By the end of the book, both Bobby Tom and Gracie learn to value Gracie for the excellent person she is, and Bobby Tom finally learns to set boundaries.

The Accept-Me-As-I-Am Proud Guy

Devil’s Cub by Georgette Heyer

The Marquis of Vidal was born heir to a wealthy dukedom. Bright, good-looking and athletic, he believes he is entitled to whatever he wants, including attractive young women.

Mary Challoner is a sensible middle-class young woman with middling looks and a very good brain. When she perceives that Vidal is about to ruin her beautiful but rather silly younger sister, she disguises herself as Sophia and takes her place, thinking to teach Vidal a lesson.

But Vidal is quite capable of kidnapping an unwilling woman. Only after Mary shoots him does he realize her reluctance isn’t feigned.

When the book ends, Vidal has learned to treat Mary with respect, but is otherwise essentially unchanged.

The Cosmically Ordained Proud Guy

The Iliad by Homer

This last one is not a romance, and was suggested by G.S. Kenney, author of Freeing Eden and The Last Lord of Eden.

Chosen by the gods to be invincible, Achaean warrior Achilles doesn’t handle frustration well. When Menelaus, leader of the Achaean army, appropriates Achilles’ slave girl, Achilles retires to his tent to sulk, refusing to join his comrades on the battlefield.

Without their best warrior, the Achaeans get destroyed on the battlefield, so Patroclus, Achilles’ bestie, dresses up in his friend’s armor and goes to battle pretending to be Achilles. Unfortunately, the armor doesn’t work for him and he winds up dead.

Overwhelmed by guilt, Achilles gets up off his duff and does his job–and gets killed, too.

My Proud Guy

So now I just have to decide which of these gentlemen, and thus which character arc, is the model for my hero, Samael.

Thoughts, anyone?

Jilly: What Codename Would You Choose?

Anyone who ever read a thriller or watched a movie/TV series involving US politicians knows the United States secret service uses codenames for presidents, first ladies, prominent persons and important locations. Originally the names were for security, but today they’re used for brevity, clarity, and tradition, and are often public knowledge.

I discovered this week that people who require a codename get to choose one for themselves, selecting from a list of “good” words maintained by the White House Communications Agency. Many choose a name that resonates with them personally. So, for example, we are told Kamala Harris settled on PIONEER.

I’d pretty much reached max election-coverage fatigue, but this thought-provoking snippet perked me right up. So much baggage for one word to carry!

How would you choose a codename for yourself?

I spent an hour or two playing with the question. Do you pick a word that epitomizes the way you define yourself, or one that reflects the way you want others to see you? The options may be similar or wildly different, depending on (to borrow a concept from writing guru Michael Hauge) how closely your public identity matches your private essence. And do you choose a word that describes who you are, or who you aspire to be?

In the end I used the simple brainstorming technique I use for book titles and the like. I wrote every word I could think of in my notebook, then picked the one that instinctively felt right. For myself I’d like INDIE.

Some definitions of “independent”: free from outside control; not subject to another’s authority; thinking or acting for oneself; not depending on another for livelihood or subsistence.

Yes! I’ll take that.

I also think choosing a codeword would be a great way to develop a deeper understanding of a fictional character. I found a list of some famous ones (Liberty, Eagle, Falcon, Condor, Baroness, Duchess)—but they feel to me like a vehicle for the author to tell the reader what kind of character or story to expect. That’s like letting the Secret Service choose for you 😉 .

I took the test for my Elan Intrigues character Prince Daire of Caldermor, because I’ve just written a couple of novellas from his POV and I feel I know him fairly well. Plus I’m about to knuckle down to work on The Seeds of Destiny, a new novel that wraps up his story arc.

As the author, my codename for Daire would be LODESTONE. It’s a Middle English word for a stone that’s naturally magnetic or a person that’s the focus of attention or attraction. It’s uncommon. Something that leads or sets a course, and that brings healing and balance.

He’d never choose that for himself though. I think he’d pick HEIR, even after he becomes Crown Prince, because his whole life is defined by heredity. He inherits property and rank (a throne), physical characteristics (excess vitality, which enables him to make magical elan pulses but drastically curtails his life expectancy), a whole library of rules (the Edevald Family Statutes) and a secret pact with the ancient guardians of Caldermor (the Legacy).

Now I need to find a codename for Annis, the mountain-dwelling healer heroine of the new book.

How about you? What codename would you choose for yourself? Or for a favorite fictional character?

Michaeline: Pet Inspiration for NaNo and Other Writing

I’m writing short stories for National Novel Writing Month, and here’s the elevator pitch for my work in progress:

Tabby Kate, caterwauler at the Brawler’s Grate, is on the run from her boss and former lover, Tuxedo Jones. Stowing away on Captain Alphabet Greebo’s ship seems like an easy solution for getting off the planet without getting noticed, but this stickler for the rules notices right away that he’s got trouble on his hands.

–Weird and Wonderful Stories for Every Holiday (WIP)

It’s about cats in space.

Tom cat looking in the window with his tabby lady cat friend. Both cats have ears perked forward and interested whiskers. Tabby is ready to run, though.

The Dynamic Duo: Captain Alphabet Greebo and Tabby Kate. Unlike their fictional counterparts, they don’t fight crime: they commit it. (E.M. Duskova)

 

Now, let me backtrack a little bit. We have two housecats and two dogs who have been featured on these screens before. But staying home this summer, I came to realize we’ve got at least seven outdoor cats. One mostly stays in the barn, and I rarely see him (a Tuxedo boy who is white and black), but the others hang around our house and the house next door, waiting

Continue reading

Jeanne: Verbalizing My Story

Over the years, I’ve attended several workshops by Damon Suede. Although he has fallen into disfavor with the romance writing crowd, I’m still a fan of his teachings. (I don’t believe in canceling people. People screw up. Bigger people forgive them.)

One of the most useful things I picked up from these workshops was Suede’s focus on verbs. In teaching both about author branding and about fiction writing, he encouraged students, when describing things, to think in terms of verbs rather than adjectives or nouns.

Suede uses Pride and Prejudice as an example. He says Mr. Darcy preserves (i.e. he tries to preserve his estate and way of life) while Lizzie Bennet provokes (i.e. she needles Darcy and the other characters). Suede says if you set up your romance such that your main characters’ verbs are in direct conflict, it makes your job as an author a lot easier.

I’m very close to a first draft of my work-in-progress. I know how it ends (always a good thing, especially when you’re 50 pages or so from the finish) and I understand the characters (also a good spot to be in this close to the end), but my scenes weren’t all working. Many felt like rehashes of information the reader already knew.

My problem is that, while I feel like I know the characters, I still can’t clearly define their flaws. I know that Lilith has an issue with forgiving. She can’t forgive Samael for dumping her and she’s convinced that God will never forgive her for abandoning her first husband. Sam is the Demon of Pride, which makes his flaw pretty clear. But when I tried to think about how these issues motivated the characters, how the flaws impacted their behavior in any given situation, things got a lot fuzzier.

So I decided to try Suede’s suggestion: Think in terms of verbs that describe these characters’ flaws.

Lilith can’t forgive. Verbs that describe unforgiving behavior include:

  • Resents
  • Retaliates
  • Reproaches
  • Blames
  • Shames
  • Criticizes
  • Punishes
  • Mistreats

Sam is proud. Verbs that describe proud behavior include:

  • Peacocks
  • Patronizes
  • Pontificates
  • Disregards
  • Deflects
  • Defends
  • Ignores
  • Competes

(Side note: Suede suggests you sort your list in ascending order of escalation. Then write your manuscript, transitioning up that ladder, to ensure that your character’s behavior escalates. I haven’t sorted these in any order.)

What I’m going to do next is just go back and rewrite the scenes that aren’t working (including the one at the end that I’m stuck on), drawing from the behaviors listed above.

I’ll report back next week to let you know how it went.

Elizabeth: Meet Cute

It seems we’re in the midst of an unofficial Love-at-First-Sight week here on the blog.  After reading Jeanne and Jilly’s posts earlier today, I started thinking about the “first sight” (meet cute) the characters in my favorite books have of each other.

In the perennial favorite Lord of Scoundrels, Jessica and Dain meet in an antique shop.  They both do their best to keep their cool despite clearly feeling lust-at-first-sight.  Dain experiences such a massive shock to his system that it disorders his thinking so much that he never really recovers–a wonderful start that had me eager to find out what would happen next.

In Jennifer Crusie’s Welcome to Temptation, Phin meets Sophie, a stranger in town, when he stops by the farmhouse to make sure she and her sister aren’t causing trouble or filming porn.  Neither Phin nor Sophie want to have anything to do with each other, but reading their initial interaction is like watching two magnets trying to keep away from each other.  You just know they’re going to fail at that and wind up together, and that it’s going to be fun to watch. Continue reading

Jilly: Do You Believe In Love At First Sight?

I finished my draft of The Pulse of Princes, the novella that’s been gobbling up my time for the last few weeks. I sent it off to gobble up my editor’s time instead 😀 .

I’m so happy I chose to write this story. It turned out well, and best of all it made me think hard about the early life of Prince Daire, who’s turning out to be the most influential character in the Elan Intrigues stories. I gleaned some insights which have me really excited.

The Pulse of Princes shows Daire before he inherits the throne of Caldermor, when both his parents are still alive. I had to put them on the page. I had to figure out how they met, and how they each found a role in their marriage.

Here’s a snippet:

Princess Irmine’s dark gaze assessed Daire: the tidy queue that was making his head ache, his tense posture, carefully chosen clothes, and comfortable gray watersnakeskin boots. Her eyes narrowed. “You are so like your father. Do you know why he married me?”

That, at least, was easy. Daire relaxed his arms, used the question to restore his equanimity. A reprieve, though no doubt a temporary one. “He tells me the story, often. He loved you from the moment he saw you. He never saw a woman so strong. So beautiful. He forgot the biting cold. Forgot the furs he’d come in search of. Forgot everything except you.”

Just for a moment, his mother melted. Her dark eyes shone. Her lips softened and curled upward in sheer pleasure. Just for a moment, Daire saw the woman his father saw every time he looked at the crown princess.

“Well, yes.” Her smile faded. “But it’s more than that. Your father takes his vows seriously. His duty. He knows the best way to protect Caldermor is to have a strong, powerful country.”

“Father traded everything he had with him to carry off an unknown princess from a wild island nation on the edge of the ice fields, and you call it duty?” Daire rubbed a hand over the back of his neck. “Excuse me, ma’am, but you do yourself a disservice.”

“I say he did me a great honor.” His mother stood straight as a lance, every inch a princess. “I organized everything for my father the king. Our stronghold. Our people. Our fur trades. Desmond saw I could rule Caldermor for him. And better still, I’m not Calderran.”

“How so?”

“Because I can take the decisions he can not.” She relaxed, just a hairsbreadth. “Daire. I was traded myself. I understand everyone has a price. I’m not sentimental about Calderran people the way your father is.”

Daire winced. “And I am.”

“So it seems.” She leaned toward him, and for once he got the sense she was speaking from the heart, without calculation. “I strive every day to be worth the great price Desmond paid for me. I will do what I must to keep his country safe and strong. And I shall do so as long as I have breath in my body. Whether he is here to see it or not.”

I like this. It explains Irmine’s no-holds-barred mindset. It also led me to think about my new WIP, The Seeds of Destiny, which is Daire’s love story. I had imagined he’d be influenced by the events of the two previous Elan Intrigues books, where true love happens to people he cares about. Of course those events are important, but the bond between his own parents would be an earlier and stronger influence.

That got me to musing about love at first sight, in real life and in fiction. Lust at first sight happens all the time, of course, but I think sometimes it can be more than that. My father decided to marry my mother before he ever spoke to her. They would sit at bus stops on opposite sides of the street on working days. They spent months smiling at one another before heading off in different directions. That turned into fifty-something years of powerful togetherness.

I like it as a trope in fiction too, as long as it’s more than he’s so hot/she’s so beautiful. More like the fabulous first meet in Loretta Chase’s Lord of Scoundrels. Of course there’s immediate physical attraction between Dain and Jessica. He is hot, and she is beautiful. But there’s also a major battle of wits and an even bigger battle of wills between two smart, headstrong characters. We already know Dain is hyper-competitive. When he loses both battles we know he’s toast. I love that 🙂 .

What do you think? Do you believe in love at first sight, on the page or IRL?

Jeanne: Character Signatures

I was out for my morning walk one day last week and listening to the soundtrack from Les Miserables when I got to thinking about how each of the major characters have a clearly identifiable musical signature, a theme that, when you hear it, you know the front-and-center character is Javert, or Jean Valjean, or Eponyme, or whoever. Which in turn made me wonder how that translates in written works.

Each of my main characters has one or more identifiers, a brand, if you will. For Lilith, it’s her stilettos. For Satan, it’s his skin, which cycles through various wine colors (from a blush rose to a pinot grigio) as his mood darkens.

Dara, the protagonist in The Demon Always Wins, was notable for the burn scars that disfigured her collarbones and the backs of her hands (unless you were a demon who found them strangely alluring). Belial, the hero from that same book, was identifiable by his signature scent, a mix of vanilla and petrichor–the smell of fresh rain after a long, dry period.

Keeffe, the artist in The Demon’s in the Details, always smelled of paint and turpentine. Bad, her computer-like boyfriend, was always pushing his glasses up on his nose.

In my yet-to-be released Contemporary romance, Girl’s Best Friend, Taylor is a former dancer, and even though a severe injury means she’ll never dance again, she still moves with the grace of a dancer.

What signature traits have you read or written that have really stuck with you?

Jeanne: Plot Peeves

In the rain.

On Sunday, Jilly talked about plot preferences.

Today, I thought I’d flip that and talk about plot peeves–the things that annoy and frustrate me in stories.

(Hold onto your umbrellas, kids, cause I’ve got a lot of them.

No. 1. Failure to show the climactic moment. No, I’m not talking about sex here. I’m talking about what Robert McKee, screenwriting guru, calls the “obligatory scene,” the scene the author has spent 300+ pages making you anticipate and is therefore obliged to show you.

It doesn’t happen often, thank goodness. The best example I can think of is an episode from the show Elementary (Season 6, Episode 12) called “Meet Your Maker” where Holmes and Watson are asked to locate a missing woman who was a financial dominatrix. (Hard to explain. If you want to know, you’ll have to watch it.) After 40-ish minutes of various plot twists and surprises, they locate the missing woman, who has been kidnapped and forced to craft untraceable guns (because of her sideline as a toymaker). Unfortunately, by the time the show reached this point, all those twists and turns had eaten up all the show’s runtime. The writers chose to skip the “freeing the captive toymaker from the bad guys” scene and jumped to the denouement where everyone was congratulating each other. What the hell? Continue reading

Jilly: Searching for Niol

I don’t know about you, but I’m digging in for the long haul. It would be lovely to think the world was starting to return to normal, but I’m not making any plans that involve spending significant time in the wider world. Fingers crossed for next year.

Luckily I have a new writing project to keep me busy. I just finished up the developmental edits on The Seeds of Exile and sent it off for copy editing. Yay! Now I need to get to work on the next Elan Intrigues book, The Seeds of Destiny. I have a pretty good idea of the central story (more on that later), but I’ve acquired an important secondary character and right now I know next to nothing about him.

The Seeds of Exile is about the relationship between twenty-six-year-old Daire Edevald, crown prince and ruler of the wealthy city state of Caldermor, and Warrick Edevald, his twenty-one year old brother and heir. As I wrote the novella, I discovered a third brother, eighteen-year-old Niol. He doesn’t appear in the book, but he features strongly in the battle between the brothers and at the end of the novella Daire sends a message to call Niol home.

Salient details about Niol: he was sent away aged eight, to be raised at a friendly court on a remote peninsula four days’ ride away from Caldermor. That was a decade ago and he hasn’t been back since, though he’s always known he might be recalled. His political value is as backup to Warrick, just as Warrick is backup for Daire.

I was talking through my edit report with Karen, my developmental editor. She said “So, Niol. What’s he been doing and what’s he like?” Er. Good question. Better figure that out.

All the Edevald boys have been brought up to do their duty, no matter the personal cost, but they have very different styles and personalities. Daire is showy and theatrical, totally OTT, with a talent for political maneuvring and a big heart. Warrick is scholarly, introverted, idealistic, a touch pedantic. So what is Niol? Physically he’s like his brothers– tall and whippy, with masses of curly hair and a cute smile. As a character he can be almost anything I want him to be except an out-and-out villain.

I’d like him to be very different from the other two sons, and since he was raised in a different country I can easily justify that.

Is he happy or resentful that he was sent away?

How does he feel about the family and/or tutors who were given the responsibility of raising him? Does he feel more loyal to them than to Caldermor?

What’s his personality like? What skills has he learned in the last decade?

How does he feel about being recalled? I think he could have visited over the years but has chosen not to, which suggests to me he doesn’t see Caldermor as his home. He has no reason to feel brotherly love for Daire or Warrick.

I’d like Niol to be fun to write, and to read about. What kind of young man do you think he’d be?