Friday, 25 September 2020

Exploring Romance Tropes: The Virgin Protagonist

Wow, it's been a while since I've done any blogging... In my defence it's mostly because I've been busy writing my ass off... 

Anyway, enough about me. What I'm hoping to do over the next few months is try to deconstruct some of my favourite romance tropes from a writer's perspective – to help aspiring romance writers get a clear perspective on how these tropes work, why I love them and also hopefully to dispel some of the myths about them and to address some of the criticisms levelled at them from non-romance readers. 

But really, this is first and foremost a way to start a conversation.

So before we get to discussing that most maligned of romance tropes – The Virgin – let's start with a few essential truths.

Tropes Matter, But Not as Much as Character

Romance is a genre in which story structure is built on a vast array of established tropes – enemies-to-lovers, accidental pregnancy, secret baby, marriage of convenience, blind date, fake engagement, etc. Why? Because each one of those tropes create an instant external and internal conflict to challenge your characters and on which to build your story and hopefully hook your readers... The prevalence of tropes in romance storytelling, though, is also one of the main reasons the genre is often derided, or dismissed as formulaic, regressive, clichéd, etc. But I would argue, that's because people who don't read romance, don't understand how tropes work – and why particular tropes appeal to particular readers. They also don't understand the vicarious pleasure a romance reader gets from finding out how specific characters react to a specific trope... Which is partly because a lot of non-romance readers don't have any idea exactly how sophisticated romance readers actually are. 

A romance novel after all seems remarkably simple on the surface, it's just a story of a relationship with a positive outcome. But that simple structure hides a wealth of complexity, especially when it comes to characterisation... Because more than any other genre, the story in a romance novel is driven by how your characters interact with each other rather than the external plot. That's not to say the external plot – ie: the things that happen in the story outside your protagonists' control – aren't important. Depending on what kind of book you're writing and in which of romance's many many subgenres, that external plot can also be crucial. But, ultimately, it's the internal story of how your protagonists' relationship develops, how they grow and change as characters as a result of their relationship and their interaction with that external story that your readers want to read about most of all. In other words, without complex, multi-layered, believable characters with weaknesses as well as strengths who your readers can relate to, no one is going to want to read your romance, no matter which tropes – or how many – you employ to tell your story.

So finally, on to one of my favourite tropes...

Introducing The Virgin Protagonist:

I'm not gonna lie, the Virgin Trope is often viewed as an old school romance trope. Not least because, while there are some amazing stories featuring virgin male protagonists - see Anna Campbell's brilliant Untouched for starters - the virgin in the story, particularly if it's a heterosexual romance, is usually the female protagonist.

The virgin heroine trope is derided because it is perceived as suggesting a double standard - why should the woman in a heterosexual relationship, especially in a contemporary romance, be less experienced than the man? Are readers making value judgments about the morality of female characters as opposed to male characters? Well, maybe some of them are, after all romance readers, like every type of reader, come with their own unique set of values and perspectives... 

But here's the thing, for me, the reason I love writing the Virgin trope - whether it be the male or female protagonist, and I've written both - has nothing whatsoever to do with moral judgements. For me it's all about how brilliantly it can throw a spanner into the works of a relationship by defying or confounding expectations in that relationship. Because what a character perceives about another character can be turned on its head by that revelation – that one or other of them is not as experienced as they seem – when it comes to the first fully consummated scene of sexual intimacy. Obviously there is the question about how the inexperienced character reacts during that first sexual encounter – did they enjoy it, did it meet, or exceed expectations? Was it more intimate than they expected? Less so? But for me, perhaps more importantly, it's also about how the more experienced character reacts to that revelation too. Are they surprised? Shocked? Or even threatened by the other protagonist's lack of experience? Does it make them feel a bigger commitment than they want to? Does it fundamentally alter their perception of who that character is or how they will now react to what's just happened between them or what they are expecting from this relationship? Can you see how making one or other of the characters sexually inexperienced - they don't actually have to be a literal virgin btw for this trope to work (see below) - can create tension and subtext and internal conflict within that relationship? And subtext and tension and internal conflict is something that all romances thrive on, because it's the creation of that, the build up of it throughout the story and how it is eventually confronted, challenged and resolved that is the REAL vicarious pleasure romance readers seek – whatever their views are on female, or indeed male, sexual experience in relationships, and whether those relationships are heterosexual or feature LGBTQIA+ protagonists. Of course the degree to which you can ramp up the tension and the internal conflict between your characters with this revelation will also depend on a number of other variables, all of which are determined by your individual characters and their back stories. eg: how wide is the gap between their experience? Perhaps they're both virgins for example! How do each of them feel about the experience they already have sexually if and when they discover the other character has a lot less or a lot more? Is their lack or not of physical intimacy or sexual experience an inconvenience, a problem, a choice, a result of trauma, etc. 

And then in your story... How does that first sexual encounter develop on the page? And what happens after that initial encounter – whether the sex was good, fabulous, or absolutely horrendous? The answer is, hopefully lots more delicious internal conflict develops!

So I hope I've demonstrated how a writer can use the Virgin trope to develop conflict in their story... But here's the interesting thing about the Virgin trope, like a lot of other romance tropes, sometimes the trope itself, and the readers' familiarity with it, can be explored by the writer without actually adhering to it... 

Exploring the Virgin Trope: Or How I Used It in The Royal Pregnancy Test, Without Actually Having a Virgin in the Story!

So far I've talked about the Virgin trope in general and all the delicious What If questions it can create. But one of the things that got me thinking about writing this blog was when I saw that a reader had posted a warning for other readers on my next Presents/Mills and Boon release The Royal Pregnancy Test on Goodreads pointing out that they weren't going to read the book because they had discovered the heroine wasn't a virgin. That's absolutely fine, like most readers, this reader has particular tropes she loves to read and it's totally her prerogative to decide not to read a book that doesn't contain them... And to let other readers who may also love the trope know too. Goodreads is after all a forum for readers to discuss books with each other... But that warning got me thinking about the Virgin trope, in connection with this story and thinking about how integral it is to the story - did I say it was one of my favourite tropes?! - even though neither of the main protagonists is actually a virgin. And then it occurred to me, that is one of the beauties of romance tropes. Readers (and writers) are so familiar with them, that they can be used in all sorts of different ways to develop internal conflict and add complexity to characters and their backstories... 

Confused? Let me explain. (Warning: there be spoilers ahead!!)

So The Royal Pregnancy Test is the first book in a duo I've written with the wonderful Natalie Anderson. Our heroines are identical twin princesses Juno and Jade Monroyale - who were separated as children after their parents' divorce. The reckless rebellious twin Juno was sent to NYC to live a fairly normal life with her mother – a former actress with addiction issues who died when Juno was 18 – while Jade, who was the older by two minutes and therefore heir to the throne, stayed in the Alpine kingdom of Monrova with her father the king to be trained for monarchy. At the start of the story, King Andreas has been dead for a year, Jade is now the Queen and she's seriously considering an arranged marriage to neighbouring playboy king Leonardo of Severene. But then her sister Juno, who Jade hasn't seen in person since she was 16, although they've stayed in touch, turns up incognito at the Palace just before a Winter Ball. After discovering Jade's plans to marry Leo, who Juno thinks is a massive jerk (more on why later), Juno suggests they swap places for Christmas. It's basically a Prince and the Pauper/Frozen mash-up with added sexy times! 

So Jade heads off to New York to pretend to be Juno, little realising Juno has just had a massive screw-up at work and her impossible boss is NOT HAPPY with her (more on all that in Natalie Anderson fabulous second book in the duo The Queen's Impossible Boss). While Juno stays in Monrova planning to annoy Leo enough at the coming Winter Ball to totally put him off the idea of an arranged marriage. 

Now, Queen Jade is a virgin. She's been sheltered by her father her whole life, and Leo knows it - because King Andreas boasted about his daughter's virgin state while trying to set up the marriage before he died. In fact, Leo, being sexually experienced himself, isn't too keen on this. Why would he want his bride to lack experience? It could make their marriage even more awkward, especially as there's not much of a spark between them. But at the same time he's very pragmatic, to the point of being quite arrogant, and he figures it'll be okay. After all he knows how to please a woman, because he doesn't lack experience himself. 

But then the spark that Leo thinks doesn't exist between them ignites at the Ball, when he meets Jade again... Because well,  it's not Jade it's Juno! 

Juno, is not a virgin, although she doesn't have a great deal of sexual experience, and here's why... During her last disastrous summer visit to Monrova when she was 16 she threw herself at the 22-year-old Leo, who she had a massive crush on, and Leo rejected her, because she was just a kid and an annoying one at that. Then her father kicked her out of the kingdom for good, when he found out about her 'hoydenish behaviour'. As a reaction to that rejection, she went 'all the way' with a boy in high school on her return to NYC. Afterwards she discovered this boy had only slept with her on a bet, and the encounter was totally meh – as it often is with first times tbf... And she's not been that fussed about sex ever since, she thinks because of the meh encounter, but also actually because Leo's rejection and the shitty behaviour of that boy hurt her in a way she's never really acknowledged. Juno thinks of herself as being tough, resilient, but underneath that she's actually quite wounded and vulnerable... 

But back to the story, instead of the backstory... 

When Juno meets Leo at that Ball, he's as hot as she remembers him, and while she still wants to think he's an arrogant jerk, she also hits it off with him. They flirt, the chemistry's off the charts and they end up sharing a REALLY EPIC KISS... Suddenly Juno is questioning all those assumptions she made about sex after that one rubbish encounter – but also having to confront a few home truths about why that encounter was so rubbish and why she has shied away from sex ever since. Has Leo and his rejection had more of an impact on her life than she realised? Is she not as tough as she thinks?

Meanwhile Leo is questioning how the hell he ever thought this woman was not hot. And why he's actually quite pleased now she's a virgin, which makes him question his own integrity. Where has this neanderthal attitude come from? Doesn't it make him a sexist jerk? And if this marriage of convenience becomes something more than convenient will that drawn him into an emotional connection he doesn't particularly want... Because one of the things that attracts Leo to the prospect of an arranged marriage is not just the diplomatic and economic benefits, but also the fact that emotional intimacy does not appeal to him, for reasons that become clear later in the story...

After the REALLY EPIC KISS, another problem soon transpires for Juno. Having convinced himself he can totally handle the sexual intimacy and separate it from any emotional intimacy - did I say Leo is quite arrogant - Leo is even more dead set on getting the marriage with Queen Jade arranged, or the woman he thinks is the Queen Jade... 

So Leo 'persuades' Juno to go on an official state visit to Severene with the intention of seducing her. Juno can't get out of it without revealing who she really is. But when they get to Severene and Leo shows her the kind of approval in her role as the fake Queen that her father always denied her, she starts to feel more for him than just sexual attraction. Eventually they agree to sleep together. Juno knows she must tell him who she really is, but she prevaricates, because she wants Leo so much and she's scared if he finds out who she really is he will reject her again... And that would hurt, because she's already half way in love with him, something she would never admit to herself.... Then the big night happens. Leo is careful with her, he wants her to enjoy it, he's a little surprised she turns out not to be a virgin as he expected, but it's not a big deal because the sex is so good and he's become really captivated by her. She blurts out the truth about the high school encounter when she lost her virginity and Leo is surprisingly touched that he's the first guy to give her an orgasm during sex. But then that reaction disturbs him too, because if this attraction is mostly about their sexual chemistry, why should that matter to him... Now ofc the truth is Leo is falling in love with Juno too – she's smart, funny, much more vibrant and engaging and unconventional than the woman he thought he knew (ie: the real Queen)... But Juno – realising that she's falling for Leo and he might even be falling for her - totally freaks out at this point, because she knows this whole encounter is based on a lie. She's not Jade, she's not the Queen and how does she tell him the truth now? How will he react? Concerned at first by Juno's freak out, Leo - who is an observant and intelligent guy - begins to question all the things about Juno that don't fit, all those unexpected things that have captivated him - including her lack of virginity - but are now making him more and more suspicious.... Then he figures out the truth... And all hell breaks loose!!

So after that very long and involved deconstruction of the internal - as well as the external - conflicts at play in this story, I hope you can see, that the Virgin Trope is very much present in the text, disrupting expectations, even though neither of these characters is actually a virgin! And how delicious it can be to have both characters defy expectations, but also how much fun it can be to defy reader expectations too by playing with that trope... 

So there you have it, why I love the Virgin Protagonist Trope in romance... 

Feel free to put what you think of the trope in the comments. Do you love it too? Hate it? Think it's too old school? Too problematic? Has this EXTREMELY LONG blog given you a new appreciation for it or made you despise it more? Are there any books where it's used - or subverted - that particularly impressed you?

Let's start a conversation.

Shameless plug: BTW if you are an aspiring romance writer, a writer who wants to beef up their understanding of developing romantic relationships or simply someone who's interested in learning the secrets of one of publishing's biggest selling genres, I tutor an 7-week online Writing Romance Course for the Professional Writing Academy. The next course kicks off on Monday 26th October, if you want to join us. 

Wednesday, 17 June 2020

How One Glorious Family Summer in Burgundy Inspired A Forbidden Night with the Housekeeper

Two summers ago, I went on a fabulous family holiday to Burgundy in France. 

My younger sister – who lives in France – hired a gorgeous chateau from a friend and fourteen of us descended on it for the hottest week of the year. In between sumptuous meals sourced from the local markets, chilled bottles of Crémant de Bourgogne each evening on the terrace, pool parties and tennis battles, we managed to find time to tour a nearby vineyard – which came in handy when the temperature hit 38 degrees. 

The tour guide told us all about the vineyard’s 200-year-old history and showed us the ancient vines which were still harvested each year to make their most famous vintage. Immediately an idea formed in my mind of a billionaire vintner – the illegitimate son of a vineyard owner – who had built his own wine empire after being rejected by his father. But when the old man dies, and Maxim Durand is about to acquire the vines he has vowed to own ever since he was that rejected boy, he discovers that his father Pierre had one more cruel trick up his sleeve. Cara Evans was the old man’s housekeeper, young, innocent and rootless she has made Maison de la Lune her home, but at Pierre’s funeral, Maxim makes the devastating discovery she has inherited the vines – his vines – on one proviso, she can’t sell them to him. He is of course furious, and sets about getting hold of those vines by whatever means necessary. But after one night of passion – that gets way out of hand – Maxim discovers wine isn’t the only thing he’s good at making (hint: accidental pregnancy, anyone?)! 

I loved writing A Forbidden Night with the Housekeeper because it brought back so many incredible memories of that week in Burgundy. Long lazy days competing in tennis tournaments (I lost every one), or lounging by the pool watching the kids and young adults trying to ride a blow-up unicorn (much harder than you think, actually). And fun fabulous nights taking turns to concoct delicious meals from the local produce, quaffing the Burgundy wine (of course), and playing cut-throat parlour games (my family is disturbingly competitive!). It's memories such as these that are having to sustain a lot of us at the moment, so knowing the book will be in stores this summer is a great additional excuse to remember all that quality time spent with people I haven’t been able to see in person for weeks now… I miss my extended family so much, as I’m sure everyone does, but thank goodness we’ve discovered Zoom, which has allowed us to link up every Sunday – between France, London, Wiltshire, Cambridge, New York and Melbourne. As soon as we can, we plan to descend on Burgundy again – and in anticipation of that occasion I’m already working on ideas for a sequel to Maxim and Cara’s story. Wouldn’t it be cool if Maxim has a ruthless super-hot rival who falls in lust with Cara’s bubbly maid Antoinette?

Stay safe everyone and happy reading.

H x

Tuesday, 28 January 2020

A Sneak Peek of My Latest Release!

Claimed for the Desert Prince's Heir is out now!

Raif and Kasia's story is a sequel to Carry the Sheikh's Baby

Here's the blurb:
From desert seduction…
to carrying the sheikh’s baby!
Kasia’s thrilling encounter with Prince Raif rocked her to her core. As did his marriage proposal! Yes, she’d given him her innocence after his daring desert rescue. Yes, their chemistry had been intensely strong. But independent Kasia didn’t need or want a husband. She reluctantly fled, thinking she’d never see him again…
Until weeks later at a lavish party he’s right there, looking furious—and dangerously sexy! Kasia can’t hide the truth—she’s pregnant with his royal heir. And this time it’s clear Raif won’t let her go!

I made a little book trailer, as you do. Enjoy!

Thursday, 23 January 2020

Ever Wanted to Write a Romance Novel?

If you'd like to know more about Writing Romance check out my 7-week online course at the Professional Writing Academy - which kicks off again on 24th February!

Thursday, 3 January 2019

Book Release News and Writing Plans for 2019!

Happy New Year everyone, hope you all had a fab Christmas. I spent the week in gorgeous Northumberland, drinking prosecco, celebrating an 80s Wham Christmas (as well as the real thing), watching The Greatest Showman with my mum, doing a 1000-piece jigsaw puzzle, eating too much and visiting the best bookshop in the world (Barter Books in Alnwick, in case you need to know) - so doing all the important stuff, basically.

2018 was a good writing year for me and as a result I've already got 3 new Harlequin Presents/Mills and Boon Modern books written and scheduled for release in 2019... Yay! (Sometimes I even amaze myself?!)

Book Releases for 2019 (so far):

Carrying the Sheikh's Baby - January 2019 (that's like, now, folks!)

Hired by the sheikh… And expecting the royal heir!

When shy, academic Cat Smith is hired as a researcher by Sheikh Zane Ali Nawari Khan, she’s thrilled—and completely dazzled by their overwhelming chemistry! Cat knows a fling could compromise her professional credibility, but resisting Zane’s sensual caress feels utterly impossible. Until their passionate encounter has lasting consequences… Now carrying the heir to the kingdom means one thing—Cat must become Zane’s queen!

Claiming My Untouched Mistress - April 2019

I’ve drawn her into my world… And she’s mine to awaken!

Walking into my casino, Edie Spencer seemed like a spoilt heiress—until she agreed to clear her family’s debts by posing as my temporary mistress. My plan? To use her to expose my business rivals. Yet discovering Edie’s innocence has led to greater temptation than I could have imagined. Our chemistry is spectacular—now I’ll claim Edie for so much more than pleasure!

Contracted As His Cinderella Bride - August 2019
No blurb/cover yet... But here's my teaser trailer:
When London cycle courier Alison Jones delivers a wedding ring to French property billionaire Dominic LeGrand one rain-soaked night in Bloomsbury, they can't keep their hands off each other. It is the beginning of a tumultuous ride that will include the chance to realise her dream of becoming a fashion designer ... If only she can stop herself from falling head over heels in love with her new husband of convenience!!

Writing and Other Plans for 2019!

January 14th: I'll be doing a Take Over Day at The Pink Heart Society's Aspiring Authors Group on Facebook, so if you have questions about writing you want to put to me go join the group!

February 25th: I'll be starting a new run of my 7-week online Writing Romance Course at the Professional Writing Academy... If you want a taster session for the course, check out the week-long free workshop I'm running on the PHS AA group in February on Creating Compelling Characters... Another great reason to join this wonderful FB group for aspiring romance writers... I'll have more details of that on Twitter and FB when I know the dates.

Kasim and Kasia's Pinterest Board!
I'm already back at the coal face writing my next Presents, which is going to be a sequel of sorts to my January book - Carrying the Sheikh's Baby. So if you enjoyed Kasia and Kasim from that book, you may enjoy this one, suffice it to say there's going to lots of hot desert sex, some jet-setting in London and the Med, an accidental pregnancy and much more in store for these two! Oh my.

My other writing plans for this year include writing more Presents, hopefully another Rodeo book for Tule - featuring the oldest O'Connell brother, Gabe, who appears in The Rodeo Cowboy's Baby. I'm also working on a new women's fiction novel, whenever I can find the time, about a run-down arthouse cinema in Notting Hill, the plucky young manager who has just inherited half of it after the death of her best friend and mentor...  and the movie-hating Manhattan property developer who has inherited the other half... Wish me luck on that!

I love making plans for the new year, how about you? The only think I have to do now is start making them happen!!

Saturday, 17 November 2018

Less Is More: How to write a Short Romance Story

I love writing short stories and novellas and it just so happens that this summer I got asked to write TWO in the space of a few weeks by Harlequin Mills and Boon.

The first was a 2k-word story for Mills and Boon's Places to Fall in Love campaign, which was celebrating the top ten best places to fall in love in Britain. The brief: my story had to be set at #8 in the poll, The Minack Theatre in Cornwall...

The second story had to be 1k words or less (eek!) and was going to be added to an exclusive 3-in-1 for ASDA supermarket next Valentine's Day. The brief: it had to be set on or around Valentine's Day!

Now obviously, you don't always get a brief for a short story. But the challenge of a short story, in romance as in any other genre, is always the same, managing to fit a whole story arc in the space of a few words. With romance that means managing to have an inciting incident, emotional turning points, a black moment and a resolution however many words you have! A popular misconception with short stories is to believe that they're easier to write because they're shorter... Umm, no. If anything the short word count makes them harder. But the really great thing about them, for any aspiring writer - or even a seasoned one like myself - is that they require you to focus on the best of your craft, while also letting your imagination run wild. Structure, pace, Point of View shifts, characterisation, setting, etc all have to be tightly controlled in a short story, but you mustn't allow that to limit the story you tell, quite the opposite really, your craft should help you pack in all that emotion and relationship dynamic in a powerful way...

My Pinterest Board for The Fundamental Things!

So here are my suggestions for figuring out how to do that while deconstructing a 6k-word story I wrote several years ago called The Fundamental Things for the Romantic Novelists Associations Truly Madly Deeply collection.

When attempting to write a short story or novella in the romance genre, the most important thing to do first of all is make sure the story you want to tell is suitable for a shorter word count. That's really the main guiding principle. Ask yourself several key questions: How much do your couple have to resolve? Can you establish and resolve those conflicts convincingly in a shorter word count?

So, for example, you could go with a shorter time frame (eg: my ASDA story takes place in a super-market check-out queue). Or simply finish the story at a positive place so the reader knows this couple will sort out their existing conflicts because they have the will to do so...

But don't think that means simplifying or lessening your couple’s conflicts, in fact the reverse can be true.

Here's how I developed The Fundamental Things structured around that principle: The first thing I decided to do was have the story happen all in one scene - so literally over about thirty minutes in real time - and in one location (so no need for lots of lengthy setting descriptions!). I didn't want any other people involved, because I wanted to keep my couple totally focused on each other, so that led me to the idea of using a 'forced proximity’ narrative - basically I had them get stuck in a lift together... Now obviously, if this had been two strangers it would have been very hard, if not impossible to tell a whole story arc in half an hour, so I decided to give them a massive back story to resolve! Namely they had been lovers as teenagers - which was 20+ years ago now - she had gotten pregnant, they'd agreed she would have an abortion, but he had left her at the clinic and then he had never responded when she told him she had decided to have the baby. And they never saw each other again, until they get stuck in the lift and much to her horror he recognises her. What she doesn't know is that he was shipped off to Italy by his mother and never got any of her letters (luckily this would have been the early 90s so no social media, email, mobile phones, etc - which was why I put them in their late thirties!!) so he doesn't know she's had the child or that he's a father! So when they got stuck in the lift together - her thinking he'd deliberately abandoned her and rejected their child and him still feeling guilty about the abortion he thought she'd had which he hadn't supported her through - it led to LOTS of things to resolve. But it could be convincingly done, because of course once the misconceptions were cleared up, and they'd both gotten over the initial shock, all the feelings they'd had as teenagers for one another, before that 'accidental betrayal', could be revisited but with their newfound maturity and the newfound knowledge of what had actually happened between them. He hadn’t deliberately abandoned her or their child – in fact, the reason he left the clinic was because he couldn’t bear to be there during the termination. The hero, of course, actually had more to resolve than the heroine - having always wanted to be a father (his marriage had eventually broken down several years before when he came to the realisation he wanted children and his wife didn’t) - to discover he is one and has been one for 20 years is both shocking and devastating and wonderful all at the same time. By the time they're let out of the lift, we know he's going to meet his now grown up son, and they do share a tender kiss which gets a bit heated, so there is also the suggestion that they still desire each other, but obviously there's still a lot to work through, because she's been a single mum all these years, she lied and told her son his father was dead because she didn’t want him to know his father hadn’t wanted him but also because it was too painful for her to talk about that betrayal, he doesn't know his son and has missed his son’s whole childhood, etc. But I left them in a place where hopefully the reader knows that they will both work really hard to make the most out of what they have found together again...

The important thing to remember with this example is that the more conflict you have, the easier it can sometimes be to keep the story focused and emotionally intense – which will also lift pace and reduce the need for long descriptive passages, lengthy examinations of internal thought, etc.

In other words, the most important thing is to construct a story that will benefit from that shorter word count, not be confined or restricted by it. Don’t attempt to concertina a story which needs more exposition, internal thought, secondary characters, etc into a shorter format or your story will feel rushed and incomplete.

When actually writing your story, the shorter the word count the more you need to keep a handle on your craft, make it work for you. But here are a few of my top tips to keep you focused on telling your story in the most focused way possible:

  • Make sure you start on a point of action, so you're not wasting words on lots of back story or internal thought or scene setting.
  • Only tell the reader exactly as much as they need to know, ie: they don’t have to know everything you know as a writer about your characters, they just need to know enough to understand their goals/motivations/conflicts.
  • Remember less is more when it comes to description. Hone your writing to make those passages really pop in the reader's imagination. ie: – if the setting is integral to the story, find ways to describe it in concise evocative ways using more than just what it looks like. How does this place smell, sound, feel, too? Use dialogue and physical cues wherever possible to get your characters establishing and confronting and resolving their conflicts through their interaction with each other rather than in their internal thought.
  • I find it's easier to use a shorter time frame for this format - having the action take place over a few hours, night, a weekend, a few days, etc. - because it keeps the action intense and focused. But that's just a personal preference of mine (and because I always like to make things as easy as possible for myself!)

Interestingly, many of these tips also work for a story with a longer word count, too. And explains why attempting to write a short story or novella is such a great way to hone your craft as a writer...

I once asked bestselling romance author Linda Howard at a conference lecture she was giving about her career how I should go about making the break from writing series or category romance books (ie: books with a 50k word count) to longer Single Title books – something she had been remarkably successful at. Her answer was simple but succinct: ‘write a bigger book’. But what she meant was, not write a longer book, but write one that requires that longer word count. Write a book with a bigger story to tell. Because the most important thing to remember when writing any type of genre fiction, whatever the word count, is that no words should be wasted, each and every one of them is important and should be doing something within your story, no matter how many, or how few of them, there are. For that reason, when writing a short story, you are also learning how not to waste a single word!

If you are an author interested in writing in the romance genre and would like to learn more about the skills required, wherever you are in your writing journey, I tutor Writing Romance, a 7-week online course for The Professional Writing Academy. We do weekly sessions covering everything from how to craft effective dialogue, writing compelling scenes of intimacy, to handling emotional turning points and much more using reading extracts and writing exercises. You'll be learning in the PWA's innovative online classroom with a group of other writers, getting lots of feedback from them, while also getting specific focused feedback from me on your work each week. And we always finish the course with a longer piece of writing - which can be a short story! I love teaching this course, because it gives me so much insight into this fascinating process, as well as sharing the love with other writers. Our next course kicks off on February 25th so why not treat yourself for 2019? 

Friday, 5 October 2018

#TickledPink for Breast Cancer Awareness Month

It's Breast Cancer Awareness month n October, so tomorrow (Saturday 6th October) my sister Julia and I are going to be at ASDA in Cambridge (where she actually lives!) from 1-4pm collecting for #TickledPink with the proceeds going to Breast Cancer Now and Breast Cancer Care. Our wonderful aunt Angela has battled breast cancer - and sadly lost both her sisters to the disease - so it's a cause close to our hearts.

If you are shopping in the store that day, or just happen to be in the area do come and find us if you want to chat about writing and/or romance and, of course, to donate (we'll be the two women of a certain age wearing very fetching Mills&Boon #TickledPink T-shirts - which are blue - maniacally shaking buckets).

As it happens Mills and Boon are also donating 10% of the cover price of all pink stickered books sold in ASDA stores this month - so don't forget to pick one of those up while you're at it, too, – happy ending guaranteed! I'll have some of my own books to give away free to people who donate or buy a stickered book!!

Just some of the other M&B authors participating tomorrow include:

Kate Hardy at 10am-1pm ASDA Norwich
Kate Walker at 10am-1pm ASDA Scunthorpe
Pippa Roscoe at 11am-2pm ASDA Bury St Edmunds
Michelle Styles 11am-4pm ASDA Carlisle
Marguerite Kaye 11am-4pm ASDA Govan
Annie Burrows 2-3pm ASDA Westbrook
Janice Preston 1-4pm ASDA Halosowen
Annie O'Neil at 2-5pm ASDA Eastbourne
Liz Fielding at 10am-1pm ASDA Crawley
Chantelle Shaw at 1-4pm ASDA Folkestone
Rachael Stewart at 1-4pm ASDA Shipley
Michelle Smart at 11am-1pm ASDA Milton Keynes
Ellie Darkins at 10am-1pm ASDA Leamington Spa
Christy McKellen from 11am ASDA Bristol Whitchurch

You can check out the full list here..

So come on down and give us some love!!