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.

Where the lazy writing comes in is that physical torture is a one-size-fits-all device. Unless your character has some kind of neurological impairment, bamboo under her fingernails will affect her in pretty much the same way it affects anyone. There’s no individualization there.

Psychological torture, on the other hand, requires knowing your character’s worst fear and then putting them into situations that force them to confront that fear until they eventually grow beyond it and become a stronger, better person.

No matter how many times you take a baseball bat to someone’s kneecap, they’re not going to grow into someone who can just walk that off. There’s no growth potential there.

There are also a “damsel in distress” feeling to plots that are constructed strictly around the heroine’s physical fears. I want to see her grow as a human being, not turn into some impervious superwoman.

What’s a lot more fun, to me, is to put them in situations where they have to make a choice between what legendary writing teacher Mary Buckham calls “suck and suckier.” Where they are forced to confront their inner demons to triumph.

What about you? What’s your poison?

Michille: Unusual Strategy for National Novel Writing Month

NaNoAs the title of this blog post suggests, I plan to have an unusual strategy for National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo or just NaNo), which commences on November 1. The typical NaNo goal is to write 50,000 words in the month of November. That’s about 1,667 words per day. I am taking a different approach this year and working on the words I got on the page last year and trying to incorporate them into the overall manuscript.

I started with a skeletal story of about 40,000 words that was my master’s thesis. Then last November wrote 50,000 more words to flesh it out. I wrote the first 40k in a coherent order and the NaNo 50k in random scenes. Right after NaNo ended, I made excellent progress on inserting scenes where they should go and re-figuring the plot to make some other stuff fit. In working so diligently through November and probably through about January/February, I made great headway.

And then Life interrupted. As I’m sure at least one or two of you have experienced that, I won’t go into details, but suffice it to say work stalled and then I got so far out of the story that I could never get myself motivated to get back into it. I’m going to use NaNo to hopefully get back in my story. Continue reading

Jilly: Public Proposals–Swoon or Cringe?

Where do you stand on public marriage proposals?

I’m a sports fan, and I had the England v India cricket match playing in the background as I sat down to write today’s post. Normally I find cricket commentary provides the perfect background for writing, but today there was a break in the action, the cameras focused on a tense-looking young man in the crowd, and the TV presenter said “That’ll be Martin*. He’s here today with Suzanne*, and I believe he has something to say to her…” Martin went down on one knee and fished out a ring box. The giant TV screens said DECISION PENDING. Suzanne cried and kissed him. The screens switched to SHE SAID YES! The crowd went bonkers.

The whole episode made me cringe so much I turned the coverage off. Then I started wondering if I’m a grouchy curmudgeon who’s incapable of appreciating a heartfelt romantic gesture.

What do you think?

I’m not talking about a spontaneous proposal that occurs in front of other people because Circumstances. I love those, in life and literature. My problem is with a carefully orchestrated piece of showmanship set up with the intent to share a serious, potentially life-changing decision with as many strangers as possible, without the decision-maker’s knowledge or consent.

Why might you do that? The best answers I could come up with were:

  • The young man, his beloved, or both, are narcissistic exhibitionists;
  • The young man sees the public proposal as a grand gesture, a demonstration of the strength of his love;
  • The young man is afraid the object of his affections might refuse him, and he is relying on public pressure to tip the scales in his favour;
  • The young man is so thrilled and giddy at the prospect of marrying his beloved that he wants to share the moment with the whole world.

Which brings me to my next question. Generalizing here, but do you think a public proposal of marriage is something the twenty-first century bride dreams of? Continue reading

Michille: Character Actions

The Devil Takes a BrideOne of my favorite writer blogs is Writers Write. Most of what they write about is creative, but they also discuss business writing, and blogging and social media. A recent topic was a fun one for me – 60 Things for Your Characters To Do When They Talk Or Think. What things can characters be doing while talking? What actions will reveal character more thoroughly? Continue reading

Jilly: The Big Finish

Do any of your favorite books get wrapped up in a high-risk, high-stakes final standoff?

Michaeline and Elizabeth had opening scenes on their minds this week. I’m at the other end of my WIP. I’m deep in my writer’s cave, trying desperately to polish up the grand finale of Alexis Book 1.

There’s a dramatic setting, mortal jeopardy, the stakes are nosebleed high and there’s no obvious way out. All the major players are present—heroine; hero; scary otherworldly nemesis; powerful scheming old crone and her grandson, the heroine’s jealous, spoiled half-brother.

I’m trying to do the scenes justice, but I’m feeling a little out of my depth. I know what happens, and why. Stuff happens. Tension escalates. Somebody gets hurt. Somebody dies. The death is right for the story and I’m sure I want to make that choice, but I’ve never killed off a character before. This is a new challenge for me and I want to master it.

Continue reading

Jilly: Birthday bon-bons

Happy Birthday to us, and cheers! to all our friends here on the blog: Eight Ladies Writing celebrated its fourth birthday yesterday, 2 September. Where did the time go?

I thought about selecting my favorite posts of the last four years, but it was just too hard to choose. If you have the time, and you are so inclined, check out our archive. We have a bank of almost 1,400 posts for you to browse and enjoy.

Instead, I decided to hold a traditional birthday celebration today, with champagne, cake, candles, ice cream, and gifts. That is, I picked my favorite fictional moments featuring each of those things 😉 .

If you’d like to join the party by suggesting other festive scenes or books, I’d love that!

Here are my choices:

Champagne
Without question, my favorite champagne-related story is Lord Lovedon’s Duel, a funny, feel-good short story by Loretta Chase. The trouble starts at the heroine’s sister’s wedding, where an excess of champagne leads the eponymous hero to amuse his drunken friends by making cruel and untrue suggestions about the royal groom’s reasons for marrying a wealthy commoner. Unfortunately he is overheard by the bride and her sister, Chloe, the heroine. Chloe is incensed on her sister’s behalf. She’s also more than a little tipsy, so she confronts Lord Lovedon in front of his idiot friends, slaps his face with her glove, dashes a glass of champagne in his face, and challenges him to a duel. Lovedon’s response is as kind and funny as his original remarks were hurtful. There’s a glorious epistolary exchange, culminating in pistols at dusk in Battersea. This story is a clever, perfectly formed hit of happy. I wish I could write something half as good. I love everything about it.

Cake
There’s a spectacular cake-fest Continue reading

Nancy: The Days That Make Writing Worthwhile

Why do writers write? It’s a question non-writers often ask us, a topic we sometimes approach with fellow scribes over a drinks at the bar during conferences, and one we sometimes ask ourselves – accompanied by gnashing of teeth and pulling of hair – when we’re having a dark night of the soul. (Writers suspect we have more dark nights of the soul than non-writers; non-writers suspect writers are just being dramatic when having what normal people call bad days.)

Bad things sometimes happen during those dark nights of the soul. Creativity runs dry. The writing stalls. Imposter syndrome sets in. Or maybe it’s always there, and this is just its chance to step out of the shadows and taunt us. The story dies on the vine. We question ‘why write’, as well as ‘why not quit’. Yeah, drama.

But it’s always darkest before the dawn, the sun also rises, there’s got to be a morning after, etc., etc., insert favorite cliche here. (That’s another writerly thing. Don’t worry, it’s just a placeholder we’ll fix in the rewrite.) When the words start flowing and the story gains new life after a few days or weeks or months of tough slogging, it’s nothing less than euphoric. There’s nothing like a day of story breakthroughs to make a writer say ‘I can’t quit you’ to writing all over again.

I had one of these wonderful days recently, but it only came after weeks and weeks of false starts and what felt like hour after hour of wasted time. Continue reading