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Sunday, 17 June 2018

Building yourself a hero

Do you have a constant procession of imaginary people walking through your life?

Annoying, isn't it? When you start to feel that they are better than your real friends (well, of course they are, they do everything they are told!), more amenable, probably richer and better looking too, unless your real friends are - I dunno - the Beckhams or something. Because imaginary people have to be like real people, only more so.

Now I'm here to talk about heroes in books, particularly in romantic fiction (because those are the books wot I write, and therefore I have a vague idea what goes into them).

The men can't just be normal men; ok most of the time, bit crap at helping with the housework, fairly clueless when you are upset but basically decent. No. They have to have hair of ebony, eyes like liquid chocolate, muscles that fill their clothes out and generally they smell of something luscious and exotic, like lemons and cold air. They are always empathic, touchy-feely, as full of hugs as a HobNob is full of crunch. They are, not to put too fine a point on it, sickening. If they have a flaw it will be one that makes them that little bit more attractive - they will be devoted to the memory of their dead wife, or single-minded in their pursuit of the life that they want (and the heroine).
Like this. Only with a puppy in one hand, a bunch of flowers for his mum in the other, and a tea towel over his shoulder.

If they have a physical flaw, like a scar or a missing limb, it will have been sustained rescuing orphans from a housefire, being caught in crossfire whilst serving in a military unit somewhere troubled or saving a puppy from a runaway vehicle. It won't, for example, have been sustained falling downstairs while catastrophically drunk. Because your average hero doesn't get drunk, unless he's drinking to forget his (equally picturesque) sorrows. He doesn't overdo it at a party, walk into a lampost, sustaining a nasty cut to the forehead which scars in an unpleasantly puckered way, and then spend the rest of his night with his head down the toilet. No! For he is a Romance Hero...

So. When you come to Build Yourself a Man (can I recommend putting the eyeballs in last?) consider not just the muscles, they way his thighs bulge in his jeans, his sparkling eyes, the way he loves his mother, his dog and his job and how fabulous he is at everything he does. Consider, instead, making sure that he feels REAL to your reader. Even readers who are reading for the pure escapism and want their heroes to be billionaire sex-gods with biceps of iron, designer suits and an orphaned niece who needs bringing up, want a hint of believability in this man. They want to think that they just might run into him (or his poorer, slightly less muscly and dressed in Top Man younger brother) down their High Street on a Saturday night. They need a thread of believability running through their general Weave of Perfection.

Give him something he's bad at. Whilst a man being good at something is ineffably sexy, a man who isn't afraid to admit his imperfections is just as sexy. Show him making mistakes (and putting them right). Yes, he can be attractive, but he has to feel attainable. 
Okay, maybe not THAT attainable.

Sunday, 3 June 2018

Quick, Quick, Slow...

I've had several reviews lately, describing the beginnings of my books as 'slow'. I don't have any problem with this, especially as the rest of the review has been stellar, but it did make me think.

Why do they say my books are slow, and is there anything I can do about it?
This is my actual face as I asked the question
And then I sat down and though again, and I thought 'no. I understand why they say the beginnings of my books are 'slow'. And I'm not going to do anything about it...' This is why...

You know that girl? The one you briefly met on a train once? Well, she's just madly in love with a bloke. Oh, I don't know which bloke, just a bloke. Anyway, she's madly in love with him, but there's a problem, because his sister hates the girl, you know, the first, girl, the one you met once on that train.

Do you care? Thought not. Okay, try this...

Your best friend, the one you've known since you were five, the one you've had loads of in-depth conversation with, whose hopes and fears you understand, the one you know inside out? Well, she's just met a man. And, you'll never guess, but he's that chap that you got friendly with over a coffee, the one who told you all about how afraid he is that he'll never find anyone to love him because of his background? It's him! And they are in love!

I bet you care a lot more about those two. About whether they get together, and the story of their relationship, because you know them. You know about the struggles they've faced and how much they both deserve their happy ending. The girl on the train, I mean, obviously, you hope she's happy too, but you can't get too invested in her romance, because you don't know anything about her. All you know is that she's pretty and she seems nice.

Now, there's a place for the first type of story, of course there is. And there are people who want to read it. People who want their couple to meet quickly, for there to be loads of intial attraction, but something that prevents the couple from getting together.

But that's not what I write. I write about the second kind of relationship. About characters you already know by the time they fall in love. Characters you are cheering on, because you know how hard their lives have been and how much they deserve their happy ending.

And that is why my stories have 'slow beginnings'. Because I think readers need to know the characters before they fall in love. Otherwise, why should they care?
Because sloths are adorable, that's why...

Tuesday, 22 May 2018

Working with an editor. Or, not actively against one.

So, you've signed your contract, sent back the mermaid, and it's all gone quiet.

Make the most of it. Because soon it is going to get really REAL. Because the first thing your publisher is going to do is get an editor to go over your work.
How editors look while they are reading your book
Now, do you remember all those things I told you about dealing with rejection? Go and practice them. Because you are about to get something called an Editorial Report on your manuscript, and it will cause you to experience Going Full Tea Towel all over again. Also stock up on biscuits (it's hard to swear with a mouthful of HobNobs, at least, it isn't hard but nobody can tell what you are saying, so you get away with more), wine and clean pyjamas, because nothing much is going to get done for the foreseeable future, and as long as you have wine, HobNobs and clean pyjamas you are going to be fine. Or, maybe not fine, as such, but you will be fed, drunk and not smell, so that's all good.

Oddly enough, because the publishers have bought your book (remember, you signed the contract whilst extracting tights from the dog?) the first thing they want to do is change it. Okay, they aren't changing it because it's not good, or they had a quick whim that they wanted a book that was almost exactly like yours only completely different, but they are changing it because they think it will be better done a different way. Or with more characters. Or less. Or located in Dorset. Enid Blyton's 'Five Go To Smuggler's Top' was originally called 'Four Go To Hayling Island' before the editors got their hands on it, you know.
Except none of the editors knew where Hayling Island was, so it had to go...
 And you will look upon your editor's words, ye mighty author, and you will despair. Oh boy will you despair. This is where the swearing comes in, by the way. Because you will find yourself looking at lots of comments like 'I love this bit, but why does she say.........?' You remember writing that bit and laughing like a drain at your heroine's witty comeback, but you are now forced to realise that nobody else understands why it's witty. Just because the phrase 'no, you're a banana!' makes you roll around slapping your thigh and giggling, doesn't mean that anyone else is going to find it amusing. Remember - if you have to explain a joke, it isn't funny.

In essence, your editor is going to make you rework your book. It's going to be like doing the ironing. Hopefully it won't be more than smoothing out a few creases and getting the corners to lie flat, but it might be the literary equivalent of putting the pleats in a kilt and 101 Ways with a Lace Collar.
I've never ironed anything, but I understand this is a suitable analogy.
 Don't be afraid to stand up and tell your editor that you can't pleat that way because it will affect the way your sporran hangs later in the story, but do be guided by them when it comes to the book version of the Fitted Sheet. They know what works. Take their advice.

Oh, and don't turn your editing iron up too hot. Nobody wants a melted plot device.