Jilly: What’s on Your Id List?

What things in fiction, big or small, really do it for you? Tropes, characters, premises or details that you enjoy so much you’d auto-buy a book or stick with a really bad movie because of them?

A couple of weeks ago I listened to Writing For Your Id, a workshop presented at this year’s RWA National conference by Dr. Jennifer Barnes, a psychologist, cognitive scientist, and YA romance author. I’m super-grateful to 8 Lady Jeanne for recommending it.

The first part of the presentation, which would have been worth the price of admission, was that certain universal pleasures have become hard-wired into our brains, and encountering those treats when we read gives us a deep-seated hit of happy. Stories or scenes depicting sex, touch, beauty, wealth, power, competition and danger push our pleasure buttons. Different genres are associated with different pleasures, and the workshop offered suggestions about different ways to create pleasure-centric stories and to work with and against the typical pleasure buttons.

Lots of food for thought there, but what really resonated with me was the second part of the presentation: that you make your stories distinctive and memorable by adding in to them stuff that you, the writer, personally really, really like.

The idea is to develop a list of all the things that do it for you and use those things to bring excitement to your writing.

Work out which pleasures recur. Which ones you’re strong on and vice versa. And if you’re not looking forward to writing, get yourself in the mood by adding in something from your Id List.

Dr. Barnes said she has a list of more than a thousand items. I just made a start on mine, but here are a few things I came up with.

Sensible, smart, plain heroines who get the hot guy
Especially the overlooked bluestocking sister with a drop-dead gorgeous sibling.
I’d put Lizzy Bennet top of this list—Jane is beautiful, but Lizzy’s smart and interesting. Or quiet, competent Mary Challoner from Heyer’s Devil’s Cub.

Heroines who shoot the hero
That would be Mary Challoner again. And Jessica from Lord of Scoundrels. And Sophy from The Grand Sophy (well, she shoots a friend to prevent the hero from challenging him to a duel, but I think it counts). 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

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

Jilly: Characters Reborn and Reinvented

Characters reborn and reinventedHappy Easter to all who are celebrating today!

For hundreds, maybe thousands of years the Spring equinox has been a time to salute the coming of light and new life (here’s a link to a Wikipedia article about the goddess Eostre and all kinds of Paschal traditions). Makes sense to me. I’ve always found this time of year to be my most positive, productive and creative. There’s something about the light that makes me feel energized and inspired. I get the feeling everything is new, change is in the air and anything is possible.

I was daydreaming yesterday about how much I’d like that feeling to saturate my current WIP when it struck me that almost all romance writing is about rebirth and reinvention. Maybe that’s why I find it such an effective pick-me-up in the depths of winter or when I’m feeling under the weather.

Continue reading

Jilly: Hitting the Go Switch

Boom!So far, so good. I’m still engrossed in the discovery stage of my fantasy WIP: growing the world, developing the community, digging away at the characters of my hero and heroine, adding images to my collection and tracks to my playlist – thank you so much for the great suggestions last week – and generally trying to knit together the jumble of impressions, ideas and loose ends into something vaguely coherent. Getting there. I think.

I’ve also been investigating lots of diverse subjects I know nothing about, including how to field dress a broken arm, much ado about horses, how to maintain a shaved head, leather armor, underwear through the ages, the history of soap, and lots more stuff about fighting.

I was talking to a knowledgeable friend about fighting, sketching out the essentials of the story, and I got to a turning point that makes the heroine commit to the hero’s cause. “Ah,” my friend said, nodding his head. “That hit her Go Switch.”

Continue reading

Michaeline: A Meeting of Minds and Hearts

a couple embrace passionately on the streets

A meeting of mind and hearts is more than first attraction and admiration of one’s beloved. (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

So, tomorrow is the big day! St. Valentine’s Day, when we can indulge in all sorts of sentiment about love and loving: soppy poetry, vinegary commentary, a wistful look at what was or could have been, and a belly-laugh about what silly old things we humans can be when under the domination of love.

I met up with a friend this week for tea, and she pointed me to “The Ideal Marriage According to Novels” by Adelle Waldman in The New Yorker which talks about the different ways men and women write about romance. Basically, Waldman says that women like Jane Austen or Elena Ferrante have an ideal partner in mind who is the woman’s match in intellect and feeling towards the world. And men tend to describe romance as a mysterious thing, and the ideal partner provokes feelings in the male breast. She’s pretty, and her intelligence is a crowning glory (but what she says isn’t really the point; it’s her fitness to be his partner that is the important thing). Continue reading

Jilly: Picking Your Brains on Sports Romances

Sports romance hero?Where do you stand on sports romances?

I love sports of all kinds. They’re such a great test of character. I love to see how superb athletes react when they’re pushed to their limit and beyond. We learned in class at McDaniel that character is choice under pressure, and sport offers those fascinating, insightful moments on a regular basis.

I like to write with the cricket commentary as background noise. I always know what’s happening on the tennis tour. And if I’m not at Wembley for the NFL UK games, I’m usually to be found on the sofa on Sunday nights, glued to the transatlantic action until way past my bedtime. So it’s surprising that I’ve never thought about writing a sports romance. Until now.

A sports star hero comes with certain built-in advantages for the romance writer and reader. He’s likely to be young, he’ll undoubtedly be in great physical shape, and he’ll almost certainly be rich. Chances are he’ll be high-profile.

His character offers a wealth of possibilities. He should be mentally strong – driven, competitive, goal-oriented, focused and decisive. The flip side of that is Continue reading