Michaeline: Fictional Mothers who Kept a Sense of Self

A Japanese woman with an open kimono sits with her small son behind her. They are both looking into a mirror.

Motherhood in fiction: can the mother still see herself after she has children? (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

In genre fiction, many heroines and heroes have lost their mothers. Before medical advances, moms died. A lot. Childbirth, exhaustion, diseases that we can fix with a round of antibiotics . . . people in the 19th century knew about motherless children and orphans. Everyone had a cousin or a friend who had lost a mother (or had lost one themselves), so as a literature plot point, it packed a lot of punch and came with built-in baggage.

When mothers do appear, they are rarely the main character.

This is somewhat understandable. As a mom myself, I didn’t have the energy or the time to be a hero, unless it was the Hero of the Gastroenteritis of 1997 (when the child was exploding out of both ends), or the more everyday adventures of Dinner on the Table. Nobody wants to read a 75,000 word novel about that.

However, moms often have great reasons to go beyond and above the call of duty. After all, these “mama bear” chestnuts don’t get thrown around for no reason. If you mess with a woman’s kids, you can’t predict the results. Moms get proactive, creative and, to be honest, sometimes irrational when their children are in danger. They’ll push their kids out of the way of cars, donate a kidney, fight a pouncing cougar or rush into a burning building to rescue their children.

Two fictional mothers stick in my mind. One was the fiercely independent Stella Johnson (played by Barbara Eden) of the Harper Valley PTA. I was only nine or ten when I saw the movie, but I still remember how this mom kept her humor and was true to herself. Being a mom wasn’t integral to the plot (except, perhaps, that she needed a reason to be part of the Parent Teacher Association), but it was an essential part of her identity. She was a make-up saleswoman with style and flair, and she bested all the fuddy-duddy conservatives in town with the help of her free-spirited neighbors who were also sick of the oppression.

The other mom I admire greatly is Continue reading

Jeanne: Enneagrams

On Sunday, Jilly talked about the class we’re taking, Inside Out: Crafting Your Character’s Emotional Conflict, with award-winning author Linnea Sinclair.*

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Linnea Sinclair

One of the things that makes me such a slow writer is because it generally takes me 100 or more painfully typed pages to know my characters well enough to understand what they’ll do in any given situation. Up to that point (and sometimes, as with my current WIP, even longer) I head off in wrong directions and follow blind alleys and generally wander in the wilderness while I get to know them.

It’s not an efficient process.

Now Ms. Sinclair has given me a tool to (I really hope) shortcut that painful process–the Enneagram (pronounced any-a-gram). According to the Integrative 9 website, the Enneagram is an archetypal framework that offers in-depth insight to individuals, groups and collectives.  Put more simply, it’s a psychological test that categorizes people into 9 different groups based on personality/character factors. Continue reading

Nancy: Name That Character!

Later this week, I will finish the final pages of the first draft of Three Husbands and a Lover. While I will then walk away from it for a few to several weeks before starting on revisions, there is one change I already know I have to make: changing the name of the hero’s sister. Percival (Percy) Carlyle, Captain Lord Granville, is an earl with three younger sisters. The younger two are sixteen-year-old twins named Lily and Iris. The oldest is eighteen and is named Priscilla, Prissy for short.

You can see the problem. Percy and Prissy. As much as the sister just felt like a Prissy, as much as the name suited the character, even I started getting confused and typing one name when I meant the other. Now this character, who plays an important secondary role in this story and who might get a story of her own someday, needs a new name.

This oldest sister is chatty, bubbly, and hopelessly romantic. She is has fallen head over heels for her first earnest suitor, who doesn’t really deserve her affections. And she welcomes her brother’s new wife with open arms, thrilled to have an older sister to balance out the two younger ones. She is tallish for a woman, and has pale freckled skin and light reddish-blonde hair like her brother, and unlike her mother and sisters who are petite, dark-haired, and dark-eyed.

The two younger sisters are named after flowers, obviously. Flower names became very popular in the 19th century, and it wouldn’t be too big a stretch to imagine a family naming all their daughters after symbols of prettiness and sweetness. So, like her sisters, the character formerly known as Prissy will be named after a flower. I’ve narrowed down the list to the following three, with their meanings, and the pros and cons of each from my perspective. Continue reading

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: Continue reading

Jilly: Give the Girl a Goal!

I’ve spent quite a bit of time this week judging contest entries.

We’re talking genre fiction, not literary works. I’ve been judging as a reader. Clean, smooth prose is good, but it should be a delivery vehicle for strong storytelling.

Many of the pages I’ve read have been thrilling. The heroine has a strong, active role – she’s a bodyguard, or a firefighter, or sniper, or a PI, or whatever. The world-building has on the whole been convincing and the writing sound.

So it pains me to say I would not have bought any of the stories I read, nor even bothered to read on if the author had given them to me gratis.

The problem, I think, was that not one of these strong, active heroines had a goal. They had expertise, they were parachuted into action-packed scenes, and they responded as they had been trained to do. They saved themselves, children, cute puppies and even hunky heroes. Things happened to them, and they reacted. Boom! Pow! Continue reading

Nancy: Liar, Liar, Page on Fire

Characters lie. They do it all the time. They lie to themselves when they convince themselves they’re after an external McGuffin when they’re really searching for love, or acceptance, or loss of everything so they can start over fresh. They lie to other characters in conversations, and give away the truth in their interior monologues and actions. Sometimes they even lie to readers, especially in the cases of the recently-popular, unreliable narrators in books like Hawkins’s Girl on the Train and Flynn’s Gone Girl.

But what happens when one of the leads in a romance story lies to the other lead? Will readers root for someone lying to our girl/our guy and still want the liar to get the HEA? How long can a character lie and still be considered redeemable? Are there circumstances that make this character choice more palatable?

These are the questions I pondered as I worked on the discovery phase of the next novel in my Harrow’s Finest Five series. This is Percy’s story, for those who have read the novella. And the story kicks off with our heroine (Finola) telling one whopper of a lie to get Percy’s attention and, ultimately, help.

I ran multiple scenarios about when, where, and how my heroine would come clean. I talked to readers. I reread stories I remembered with some level of deception between the characters. After all that, I have lots of thoughts, but my main take-away is that whether the lie is tolerable and forgivable all comes down to “why”. Continue reading

Jeanne: The Complexity of Romance

muffins-2225091_640Romance may be the single most complex genre of fiction there is.

A romance author has to juggle five different arcs:

  • Story (plot) arc
  • Character arc for the heroine
  • Character arc for the hero
  • Relationship arc
    • And within that relationship arc, both the emotional arc and the physical arc of the romance

That’s at least double most other genres, which have a plot arc and character arcs for only one or two characters (and sometimes no character arc at all).

To make things even tougher on the romance writer (though easier for the reader), some of those arcs should line up, sharing common turning points.  Let’s do a hypothetical example:

Our Heroine wants to open a bakery in the perfect location in her little town. She has a character flaw, though. She hates confrontations and backs away at the first sign of conflict.

Our Hero wants the same spot to open a mobile phone franchise. He’s a good guy, but he’s very competitive. Continue reading