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?

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.

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

Jeanne: Finding Your Beginning in Your Ending

jen-malone-425423679Last week I attended an online workshop presented by Middle Grade and YA author Jen Malone on the topic of Show Don’t Tell.

The class focused on opening scenes, and how to write them in a way that provides enough information for your readers to understand what’s going on without drowning them in backstory. Following are a couple of gems I gleaned from the class.

First, a handy little rule of thumb for gauging the balance between showing and telling in your first scene. If you’re not sure if it’s too heavy on the telling, try visualizing it as a movie opening. If you need a voice-over to get through the scene, you’re telling too much.

The other thing she said that really struck me was to envision your main character the way you want them to be at the end of the story and then create a first scene that portrays the character as the opposite of that.

That was fairly easy to do for Lilith, my protagonist, because she’s a familiar character from my previous two books. The character I’ve been struggling with is Samael, Lilith’s ex-husband and the head of Hell’s legal department (i.e. the devil’s advocate).

I knew some of his character traits: ambitious, competitive (every lawyer I’ve ever met is over-the-top competitive) and a mind like a steel trap. But I couldn’t figure out what this would look like in my opening scene.

So, I tried out her method. At the end of the story, I want him to be:

  • Willing to give up being a power in Hell
  • Willing to lose if it will give him the life he wants
  • In touch with his emotions and able to recognize that not all choices can be made strictly via logic
  • Family-focused

Which means at the beginning I want to portray him as:

  • Ambitious
  • Competitive
  • Ruthlessly logical
  • Career-driven

This may not sound like much, but now that I know how to portray him in that opening scene, I feel like I have a much better handle on it.

What tricks do you use to help you get started?

Michille: Beach Reads 2020 (and before)

His Lady to ProtectI’m a week late to post for the start of the summer season with the holiday weekend behind us wherein lots of folks (idiots) in my area and around the country headed to the beach. For our non-US friends, Memorial Day in the US is a federal holiday for remembering and honoring people who have died while serving in the United States Armed Forces. It is currently observed on the last Monday of May, which means a lot of Americans have the day off (and head out of town or have a cookout).

With beaches on the mind (or currently in my imagination), I was thinking about beach reads for this summer. I’m not heading out anytime soon because having 100,000 Americans die of COVID-19 (that we know of) scares the crap out of me, especially since I was dog sick in January just after returning from a 2-week trip to China. Pneumonia makes me one of those ‘vulnerable population’ folks. But I will probably have some time to put my nose in a book despite the new crazy workload created by this pandemic (and I’m just so incredibly thankful that I have a job that I can still do [albeit 12 hrs a day]). Continue reading

Jeanne: Torturing Your Characters

Depositphotos_11087992_s-2019Lately I’ve noticed a disturbing trend in romance–the physical torturing of characters–the heroines, in particular.

This may have always been the case and I just hadn’t noticed, but I don’t like it. I don’t like it because:

 

a) my imagination is vivid enough that it’s very unpleasant to read

b) Much like our bodies are constructed from what we eat, I think our psyches are constructed from what we ingest in the form of entertainment and

c) It’s lazy writing.

In my books, my characters undergo a fair amount of psychological torture (and some random, cartoonish physical torture if Satan’s feeling especially cranky) but I draw the line at detailed depictions of physical torture.

As I said, I just don’t like to read this kind of stuff. I also don’t watch movies with graphic violence. I saw the move Seven years ago and it took me weeks to stop flashing on the various gory scenes.

I’m a big fan of Dick Francis’s novels, especially the ones set in the world of horse racing, but one almost universal component of his books is that at some point the hero gets tortured. I always skipped those parts. Continue reading

Michille: Favorite Characters

Marrying WinterborneOne of the reasons that I like reading and writing romance is the character-driven nature of the stories. I like character arc. One of the reasons that I don’t usual watch TV series is the lack of character arc in most of them. If the focus of the show is on, say, solving crimes, like Law and Order or Criminal Minds, I don’t get annoyed with lack of character growth. I do get annoyed when it takes five or six seasons for two people who clearly have spark to get together. I understand why it takes that long, I just don’t like it so I don’t watch it.

I have favorite characters and there are usually the books that I go back and re-read, particularly when I’m struggling with my own character’s arc. What was the character like in the beginning? How was he/she changed at the end? How did the author show the change? Continue reading

Nancy: Echoes and reversals, beginnings and endings

Last week, a friend of mine, who happens to be a writer (quelle surprise!) posted in her Facebook group about being obsessed with beginnings and endings as she starts a new writing project. I’m in the same headspace right now for a couple of reasons. The first is that I’m about to embark on my own new writing project. The second is that my husband and I finally got to watch a proper ending for an HBO series we loved that died an unexpected death thirteen years ago.

We were Johnny-come-latelies to the prestige TV phenomenon of the series Deadwood. But after years of having the story recommended to us by trusted friends, we eventually watched the first episode. And we were hooked.

The very first scene* had a twist I saw coming but couldn’t quite believe would really happen. The first season introduced a community of characters who were sometimes repulsive but always magnetic, storylines that focused on character minutia but were simultaneously sweeping, dialogue that was vulgar while also Shakespearean. And as we watched the last episode of the third and final season, we realized with dismay what the show’s early fans had experienced in 2006–this amazing story, unexpectedly canceled after the third season had wrapped, never got a proper ending. Continue reading

Jeanne: To See or Not to See

ParagraphsA few weeks ago, I attended a book talk at Paragraphs Bookstore in Mt. Vernon, Ohio with Donna MacMeans, a member of my RWA chapter and former treasurer of RWA National.

Donna’s first novel, The Education of Mrs. Brimley, won the Golden Heart® for Historical Romance back in 2006. She has since followed it up with nine more published novels.

At Paragraphs, she described the book as “a book-length strip-tease.” She went on to explain the premise: unmarried Emma needs to escape London and the twisted domination of her uncle. She discovers an advertisement for a teaching position in Yorkshire, but the successful applicant must be a widow. Desperate, she applies anyway, forging a reference that nets her the job. Then, attired in her late mother’s widow’s weeds, she heads for Yorkshire. Continue reading