Friday, June 24, 2011

Words of wisdom from Trish Wylie - Part One

Over the next three fridays here at the minxes, we are joined by Mills and Boon/Harlequin author, Trish Wylie, who is visiting to impart some wisdom about how to start your romance novel. Her advice is fantastic. Do check in over the next few weeks to make sure you don't miss anything!
Thank you, Trish, for the blog posts.
Now, over to Trish...

For many writers, the best part of the creative process is before they even open a file on their computer. But once the adventure of a new project becomes the challenge of a blinking cursor, many of us can become bogged down with angst. Quite possibly because we know how important beginnings are in the world of writing.

With some experience under my belt (that I plan to put into practice any day soon) and thanks to some extensive research on the subject, I now know there are several common ingredients every story has regardless of where it falls within the vast range of fiction. Once I knew what was supposed to be there, it made me more aware of how those ingredients were present in the books I had enjoyed. It could be argued having them makes a story ‘formulaic’ but the simple fact is, there are certain things we expect to get for our time and money, especially in a century when we can get instant gratification at the push of a button.

So what are we looking for in a strong opening? First up:

1/ The Inciting Incident.

This is the moment when something happens to change things profoundly for the characters. Prior to this they have already lived their lives and formed their personalities in the same way anyone would when they reach the same age. Think of them as people living ordinary lives (though obviously if they live in a paranormal world their definition of ‘ordinary’ may differ from ours) who are launched into a new adventure or series of challenges by something ‘out of the ordinary’. It’s the same turning point any of us can experience in our lives, the decisions we make from that moment on allowing us to take a different path from the one we were on. In a Romance, this is typically the moment when the hero and heroine meet. Keeping in mind the demand for instant gratification and we know this should happen as soon as possible, which leads us neatly into...

2/ Introduction To The Characters.

The main protagonist/s of the story should be identified as soon as possible to the reader and it should be clear which point of view we are in at any given time. We don’t need to know the characters entire life story prior to the inciting incident but we should know the basics. Their names, a description of how they look and - if relevant at that point - their job, all allow us to form an initial first impression. Not only is this typical of real life, the first insight into a character’s point of view allows us to see how the things they do and say may differ from what they thinking and feeling, leaving the reader with a set of questions that will encourage them to continue reading so they may discover the answers (See point 10). It also allows us to see how they change as the story progresses. In order to help them make that change they will have two issues to deal with...

3/ The External Problem.

As a direct result of the inciting incident, the characters will be presented with a scenario that will throw them together on the new path they have taken. How the characters react along the way reveals more of their personality - allowing us to get to know them better without the need for long explanations. Naturally at the beginning – as is the case with many of us when life throws us a curve ball – they may be resistant to change, but this is where fictitious characters differ from people in real life. Instead of avoiding the problem or sticking their head in the sand, they will tackle it head-on in a proactive manner; moving the story forward. At this point, how the external problem is resolved may seem to be what the story is about, but this is the PLOT as opposed to the EMOTIONAL JOURNEY, which brings us to the second issue...

4/ The Internal Problem.

This is below the surface on a psychological and emotional level. Initially invisible to the other characters but hinted to the reader in the beginning, it eventually leads into the ‘black’ or ‘all is lost’ moment when the crux of the problem is revealed to the characters and a happy outcome seems impossible. In all Romance novels this is literally the heart and soul of the story. What the inciting incident does is bring this problem to the forefront of the characters minds, forcing them to confront it and deal with it as the story continues. Typically what will happen is the ‘opposing’ character will in some way represent what the ‘main’ character fears most and they will recognize this on a subliminal level. Perceiving them as a ‘threat’ they will resist with one of our most basic natural instincts; fight or flight. The challenge that drives the story forward will then be how they overcome this fear to gain the reward of their ‘happily ever after’ in the end. Naturally, this isn’t possible without a change of some kind, so what the beginning of the story does is hint at the emotional block holding them apart while at the same time hinting at the ending, which brings us neatly to... be continued...
The next items covered in this ongoing series from Trish are:
Foreshadowing, Setting, Tone, Backstory, Theme and Hook.
Trish’s long-awaited book, ‘The Inconvenient Laws Of Attraction’, will be out in the UK and Ireland in December 2011.
In the meantime, her third book, ‘Her Unexpected Baby’, is available for the first time in the USA and Canada direct from eHarlequin RIGHT NOW!

Find it here.  
You can find out more about Trish and her books at or follow her between deadlines on Twitter @TrishWylie


Jennifer Shirk said...

Great breakdown!

Kat said...

Tris, I am SO excited about you joining us here today, and as expected your post is full of insightful knowledge. I'm a fan of your books anyway, and found your blog posts about 'not at nationals' massively useful.
Wishing you lots of luck with your latest wip, I'm really looking forward to reading your posts over the next few fridays.


Trish Wylie said...

Thanks Jennifer! I have little cards with these notes pinned to the notice board above my keyboard. Great to be able to share them here :)

Trish Wylie said...

Hi Joanne! I'm excited too! Been SO LONG since I blogged anywhere it's quite the treat. Really should resurrect mine sometime. When this new book is done maybe? Hope the writing is going fantabulously well for you!!!

Janet Ch said...

Oh great --a Trish blog! And not just one but more to come ---I can't wait for the others :)And you have a new book out soon too!

We're told that our hero and heroine need to be proactive. But does this also apply to the inciting event?

eg the secret baby story. In the past I've read stories where a secondary character tells the hero he has a secret child and he reacts by going off to confront the heroine (inciting event brought about by secondary character) or he chances upon the heroine and her child in a public place (inciting event brought about by coincidence) Or the hero's career sends him to work in the same place the heroine coincidentally is now working. In all three cases the inciting event doesn't come from the hero or heroine's motivation

Trish, is it better to have the hero or heroine instigate the inciting event? eg the heroine feels guilty and contacts the hero to tell him he has a child he knew nothing about? Or is the inciting event the one place when it's okay for a character to be reactive?

Trish Wylie said...

Hi Janet, great to *see* you! And as always GOOD QUESTION.
Now, let me see, when it comes to the inciting incident, I think of it like any pivotal moment in real life. Some are accidental, some happen despite our best efforts to prevent them, some are the result of action we took that we never expected to come back and bite us in the ass, some may even be seen simply as a twist of fate. We've all had these moments and know how they can often occur when we least expect them, so when it comes to the inciting incident at the start of a story, that's the kind of thing I'll try to achieve.
For example in the new book the inciting incident is when the heroine - a lawyer - turns up on the hero's doorstep to tell him that he's the sole beneficiary in his estranged father's will. In the one I'm working on now, it's as simple as the hero moving into the apartment facing his long time adversary, the heroine. One is out of the characters hands, the other is out of ONE of the characters hands but you would kinda have to ask why - if the hero dislikes her so much - he took an apartment so close to her? See what I mean?
Does that help, honey?

Janet Ch said...

Thank you, Trish--that's exactly what I needed to know.
Inciting incidents can be chance events, twists of fate, events instigated by the characters (either consciously or subconsciously)

That gives us a very wide scope. Now I'm clear on that, I'll stop trying to come up with inciting incidents that come solely from character motivation and go with the ones that offer the most intriguing opening hooks :)

Claire Robyns said...

Some excellent pointers, Trish, you make it sound so perfectly easy, laid out like that, lol.
I'm so looking forward to your new book, can't wait!

Trish Wylie said...

You're welcome Janet! Just be wary of playing up the 'fate' angle too much. I tried that once and was told to edit it out. Having an inciting incident that *seems* like fate is, I think, fine at the beginning if handled right and not played on too heavily but it is there to do but one thing: Kick the Plot going. Once that happens then everything has to happen for a reason and there can't be a series of 'fateful' events to bring the characters together. These would be seen as coincidence and too many of those stretches the suspension of belief a tad more than necessary. But yes, there is an abundance of scope there. Have fun with it, my friend!

Trish Wylie said...

Hi Claire! IF ONLY!!! I've gotten to the point now where it's story first and then the checklist comes out when I'm editing. MOST of the things on the list I should TECHNICALLY do without thinking at this point, but apparently I'm not smart enough for that ;) So. Glad. You're looking forward to the new book!!! It was a giant pain in the - erm, test of my patience while writing it but by the time I read the finished edits, I have to say the characters really made me smile. Hope they do the same thing for you!

Romy Sommer said...

Thanks so much for visiting here Trish, and for your very interesting post.

I'm looking forward to next week's post - especially the bit about fore-shadowing. I so admire those clever moments when authors plant seeds of what's to come, making the reader feel so intelligent by 'uncovering the clues'.

Tina said...

What wonderful information! Looking forward to Friday. Thanks so much for sharing.