Jilly: Menu Gourmand

In romance there are basically two kinds of series. The first, which Nancy discussed last Monday, focuses on a community: a family, or schoolfriends, or regimental comrades. In this kind of series, each book tells the love story of a different member of the community. It works really well in historical romance.

The other kind of series follows the adventures of one couple over multiple books and is a natural fit with fantasy and urban fantasy. That’s what I’m busy writing.

At its best, this kind of series is like a tasting menu from a really, really good restaurant. Delicious, ambitious, and not to be attempted by the faint-hearted.

  • Choose your cuisine.
  • Decide how many dishes you plan to offer.
  • Each dish should stand alone as a tasty, balanced, harmonious whole.
  • Every course should be delightfully different, offering contrasting flavors and ingredients but in a cohesive style.
  • The menu should flow, offering a natural progression leading the diner from piquant to savory to a delightful sweet finish and possibly some perfect petits-fours.
  • The content of each dish should be perfectly judged, leaving the diner neither over-hungry, nor sated too soon, but wanting more until the final satisfying conclusion.
  • The sum of the whole should be greater than each of the parts.

To whet your appetite, click here for the Land and Sea tasting menu from one of my favorite restaurants, The Three Chimneys on the Isle of Skye.

In literary terms, this kind of story is exemplified by Dorothy Dunnett’s Scottish Historical Lymond Chronicles, or Karen-Marie Moning’s Celtic urban fantasy Fever series, Lois McMaster Bujold’s Sharing Knife books or more recently by Ilona Andrews’ Hidden Legacy trilogy.

This is what I’m aiming for: something a little different, offering fine local ingredients combined with flair and executed with skill. If I get it right, hopefully my Menu Gourmand will be mouth-watering, memorable, and a treat worth saving up for 🙂 .

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: Heroine (and Hero) Makeovers

makeoversIf the heroine of the book you’re reading gets a makeover part-way through the story, do you cheer her on or sigh and roll your eyes?

You won’t be surprised to learn that the heroine of my current WIP, a young woman who’s spent her whole life passing as a monk, eventually gets found out. Shortly afterward, Reasons require her to dress and act like a lady for the first time ever. In different circumstances she’d have enjoyed it, but the stakes are high and she’s way out of her comfort zone, so she finds the experience highly stressful.

I’m having fun torturing her, though, and working on Alexis’s transformation reminded me how much I enjoy a good fictional makeover. Continue reading

Jilly: Creative Re-Writing

Creative Re-writingHave you ever read or watched a story that frustrated you so much you re-wrote it in your head the way you wanted it?

I was still at school the first time it happened to me. A friend lent me Gone With The Wind, and since even then I was a committed lover of the happy ending, she assured me that everything turned out okay in the end. I sobbed through the final chapters waiting for the reversal that never came. I dealt with it by imagining my own version of the story, and I’ve never re-read the original since. I’m still on speaking terms with the ‘friend’ who caused my book trauma, but it was touch and go for a while.

I’ve been revisiting the question this week Continue reading

Jilly: End of Series Anxiety

End of Series AnxietyDo you enjoy reading series? If so, do you suffer from End of Series Anxiety?

Sometimes when I’m reading a book by a new-to-me author, if the writing is stunningly good and the plot is ratcheting up nicely, in the middle of my enjoyment I’ll hear a voice at the back of my head warning me not to get too carried away, because however smart the author is, there’s always a risk that the way she chooses to resolve the story might not work for me.

Funny thing, but even after I’ve settled down to a harmonious relationship with an author and built up a level of trust that their story choices are likely to make me happy, I’ll still look at an upcoming release, close my eyes and hope it’s going to be all right. That’s most likely to happen in the final book of a series, because confidence in the author + emotional investment over multiple books + increasing story stakes + ever-higher expectations -> nose-bleed high risk. Continue reading

Jilly: Word Candy

Word CandyRegular 8LW commenter Rachel Beecroft recently introduced me to Gail Carriger (thanks, Rachel!). As I read the first few pages of Soulless, I felt a smile spread across my face and a great big Ahhhh! bubble probably formed above my head. The heroine Alessia Tarabotti’s world is complete and beautifully drawn and the characters are fascinating, but most of all I loved the author’s voice, which is witty, and rapier-sharp.

Most of my favorite books are written in close third person POV, which figures, because it suits the style of romance I like, where both hero and heroine get a voice and the story is experienced entirely through the eyes and thoughts of the viewpoint characters. There’s no place for anything that puts distance between the reader and the characters, be it asides from the author or words like ‘saw’ or ‘thought’. (For more on close or deep POV, check out this great post from Kay.)

Sometimes though, I read a book where Continue reading