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...
...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.
‘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 http://www.trishwylie.com/ or follow her between deadlines on Twitter @TrishWylie