Write Your Novel In A Year - Week 21: All About Character

Welcome to week 21 of Anthony's series that aims to help you write a novel in a year. Read last week's post here

Goal setting
  1. Continue writing the scenes of your novel
  2. List and define your characters’ actions
  3. Building back story for each major character
  4. Connecting relationships between characters
Breaking it down

What does your character do – the good, the stupid, the irrational?
We all know that no one likes a passive character. Your main characters, especially your protagonist and antagonist, need to be doing things – in other words, making decisions and then acting on those decisions.

Here’s a great exercise to try. Watch a movie or read a book and then make separate lists for each of the three or four main characters. Under each character name, list in bullet form, each action this character takes. For example, if Joe is a main character in a story, you could list:  Joe shoots the intruder in his daughter’s bedroom. If Cassie, his daughter, is the loved one in the story, you could list: Cassie sneaks her boyfriend into her bedroom one weekend. Obviously, Cassie sneaking her boyfriend into her room leads to her father shooting him – but both characters took separate actions to lead to that moment – so isolate their actions in separate lists.

Once you’ve listed all the actions your characters take, count these up. What you’ll find is that either the antagonist or the protagonist have the most actions overall.  This is a good checklist to use on your own story.

Even though I have a couple as my main characters in my novel, Jenna is really my lead protagonist — so it’s important that she is making more decisions and acting on these decisions more than her boyfriend, Matt.

Remember that the character doesn’t have to make great decisions – sometimes those impulsive, trapped, or irrational decisions will add more conflict to your plot and another dimension to your character. Back to Joe, another point on his list could be: Joe decides to bury the body in the woods instead of reporting it to the police. 
Back to the back story
How much or how little of your characters’ back stories you bring into the novel is up to you – you should decide how much of it will serve the story and if it will show an important aspect of the character.

However, you still need to have this backstory on paper or in your head as the author – otherwise you’re writing a cipher or a new-born. Everyone has a history and your characters are no different.

Take some time out this week to explore the pasts of your characters. What happened to them before the story started? Sometimes you have to go back to the day they were born – or even before they were born. Other times you can just have a general understanding of their background. For example: comes from happy middle-class family, grew up in suburbs, close to her sisters.

In my novel, I know I have to have strong understanding of my antagonist’s background. How did he turn into who is today? When did the ‘glitch’ in his psychology happen – and how did it come about? Of course, it would be tempting to reveal all of this a neatly wrapped explanation of his behaviour. But it’s better to leave some of the mystery for the reader.

Relationships – exploring connections
How are your characters connected to each other? Some relationships in a novel are easy to understand – others need a little more thought. Another great exercise to try is this. Write your main character’s name in a bubble in the middle of a blank page. Create a spider chart of the characters ‘connected’ to that main character. Who mentors them? Who could tempt them away from their goal? Who do they go to for logical advice? Who is the person who’d run away with them for a crazy weekend?

When you look at your chart, is there any character that already exists in your story? How could you make their role in the story stronger? Do you need to create another character?

We use a similar approach in Writers Write 2. You can do this exercise on all your main characters – it will help you explore your characters better and may even suggest plot ideas. For example, in my novel, a minor character is someone who knew Matt in the past is now connected to Monty, my antagonist, in the present. This gave me a great idea for a way to add another plot twist – something I wouldn’t have seen if I hadn’t done this exercise.
Timelock — 2.5 to 5 hours

Write for a half hour or an hour a day on your scenes.

5 Quick Hacks
  1. Write about your character’s first day at high school, first day at work, or first date.
  2. Have the two most unlikely characters in your novel get stuck in an elevator. What would they say to each other?
  3. If your character was on Facebook, who would Facebook suggest as ‘People You May Know’? What groups would it suggest? What ads would pop up on your antagonist’s page?
  4. Look at the mentors and teachers in your own life and career. Would they make interesting characters? Why?
  5. Create a ‘Wanted’ poster for your antagonist. What would it say? What would the reward be? 
Pin it, quote it, believe it:

‘A rich back story helps you to write, but the reader may never need to see it.’ — Roz Morris

Look out for next week’s instalment of Write Your Novel In A Year!

 by Anthony Ehlers

If you want to learn how to write a book, join our Writers Write course in Johannesburg. 

If you enjoyed this post, read:


    Writers Write offers the best writing courses in South Africa. Writers Write - Write to communicate.

    The Role Of The Love Interest In Fiction

    Love changes people. It can make good people bad and bad people good. It can make an awkward person slightly less awkward or more awkward when they learn to accept their awkwardness, because someone who is equally awkward shows them that they are just the right kind of awkward.

    Love makes people do interesting things. That is why the love interest is such an interesting character. People kill for love. People steal for love. There are, of course, many definitions of love.

    Think of our favourite love stories: Gone with the Wind, The Notebook, Up Close and Personal, Romeo and Juliet. We fall in love with the characters. We want to be in love with them.

    The love interest’s role varies a lot. In most romance stories, the love interest is the protagonist’s goal or the prize they end up with. In a crime novel, for example, the love interest’s role is not necessarily central to the story, but helps to show the character of the protagonist. It can complicate his or her life. 

    If the friend’s goal is to help the protagonist, the lover’s goal is to lure the protagonist away from his or her goal. For example, if the husband wants to be the CEO and he works late, starts studying for an MBA, and taking on more and more work. His wife wants him home in time for dinner with her and the kids.

    Love interests can be lovers in the romantic sense, but they do not have to be. As Amanda Patterson writes, 'It should be a person or an animal that your protagonist loves. It could be a friend, a pet, or a family member. Writers use love interests to support protagonists and to thwart them by threatening their well-being.' (6 Sub-Plots That Add Style To Your Story)

    They are also often catalyst characters. The catalyst is a character who knowingly or unknowingly puts events into action. They cause things to happen, which is a broad description and can apply to most characters, but think of the big things: what does the girlfriend or boyfriend do to add to the conflict in your protagonist’s life. Does he or she have an affair? Do they set ultimatums? Does she fall pregnant?

    The love interest helps us to show the internal and external changes in our characters. It is a good way to demonstrate the character arc. If a solitary character opens up and allows someone in for example.

    Killing off the love interest is a great way to up the odds for your character. Grief rips a hole into their life, for example if the serial killer strikes close to home by killing the detective’s girlfriend. It makes him even more determined to catch the killer. In Braveheart, the death of his wife forces him into battle.

    Love triangles are also very popular. Think about Peeta, Gale and Katniss or Jacob, Bella and Edward. They add lots of conflict.

    Be careful of neglecting the character development of your love interest. Often we think they aren’t important, but if we are to take the protagonist’s emotions seriously, we need to fall in love with them as well.

    Your subplots should end before your main storyline. If you are using the love interest as a subplot, this is the one storyline you can tie up last. Your protagonist can walk off into the sunset with the love interest. Readers like that.

    Hope you fall in love and happy writing.

    Read more about The Awesome Foursome Fictional Characters

    If you want to learn how to write a book, join our Writers Write course in Johannesburg. Please email news@writerswrite.co.za for more details.

     by Mia Botha

    If you enjoyed this post, you will love:

    1. May Writing Prompts
    2. The Awesome Foursome Fictional Characters
    3. Mirrors And Foils - How Characters Reflect And Highlight One Another


      Writers Write offers the best writing courses in South Africa. Writers Write - Write to communicate.

      30 Practical Ways To Beat Writer’s Block

      Many of us talk about becoming writers, but when we finally have the time and we're still stuck, will we have what it takes to go beyond the dread writer's block? Here are 30 tips to help you. Good luck!

      When you have a problem with your story:
      1. Handwrite the scene you are working through. Do this for at least one day.  
      2. Go to a public place and watch people. Describe what they do and say. Try to find a way to use their body language, and the sights, noises, and odours around you in your own story.
      3. Change the setting in your story. You may want to change it back later, but for the purpose of the exercise, move the characters into another location.
      4. Introduce a new character who watches your main characters. Describe the scene you are writing from that new character’s viewpoint. This should give you a different perspective on the problem. 
      5. Use your daily writing prompt to start a scene in your story.
      6. Change the timeline. Make the scene you are busy with an epilogue or a prologue or the beginning or ending of the story.
      7. Ask your character if his or her bucket list has changed since you began writing the story. If it has, rewrite it. If it has not, perhaps it should.
      8. Write from another character’s perspective. If you have been telling the story through the protagonist's viewpoint, write a scene through the eyes of the antagonist's sidekick.
      9. Make your character behave out of character. If your heroine is brave, make her back away. What happens when she does this?
      10. Ask your character to list the five things he or she is grateful for right now. If you do not know, you may need to spend more time with your character.
      11. Change tenses. If you’re writing in present tense, switch to past tense and vice versa. Do this for an entire scene. You may find that it gives you ideas for what to leave in and what to exclude.
      12. Research something that interests a character in your story – even if you’re not interested in it. List five things you could use in the story as a result of this research.
      13. Add multimedia to your story. Allow your character to use tweets, emails, and texts to give your story texture.
      14. What if? How can you make things infinitely worse or better for your protagonist at this moment? Is it something you could use?
      15. Stay in the moment. Make sure you won’t be disturbed. Get inside your character’s skin and write the scene moment-by-moment, breath by breath.
      When you are the problem:
      1. Make time to write. A daily schedule is essential for success. You may find the daily word counts of these famous authors inspirational.
      2. Take time to do a manual repetitive task that does not involve any machines or technology – and that has nothing to do with writing. Knitting, colouring in, doing the dishes, and walking can empty your mind of nonsense and allow ideas to filter through. 
      3. Make a list of your usual distractions. Do you check your phone? Do you obsessively feel the need to check if you have enough groceries for the week? Write it down. Being aware of it will help you stop doing it. Get any distractions out of your system before you sit down to write. 
      4. Schedule regular breaks. Work for 50 minutes, and stop for 10 minutes.
      5. Reward yourself for sticking to your schedule. When you finish a chapter, take the afternoon off to visit an old bookshop and wallow in the shelves. Use chocolate, coffee, whatever motivates you.
      6. Do the things you don’t want to do, but have to do, such as cleaning, cooking, and walking the dog, first - before you sit down to write.
      7. Make a list of the top three important things you need to do to write every day. Do you need a quiet or a noisy space? 
      8. Move. Regular movement keeps us healthy and alert. When you take a break, go outside or do some exercises.
      9. Try to write a paragraph where you change sentence lengths. Sometimes using structure can help us to become more creative.
      10. Write about how you don’t feel like writing. This is an excellent way to find out what's really going on with you and with your story.
      11. Pay attention. The magic of storytelling is in the details. Live your life paying attention to everything you see, hear, smell, taste, and touch. Observe human interactions and then write it down.
      12. Read something in a genre you’ve never read before. Taking ourselves out of our comfort zones is good and doing it between the pages of a book is also safe.
      13. Listen to music in a genre that makes you feel uncomfortable. Do the same with films and television shows. Write about why they make you uncomfortable.
      14. Take a shower or have a bath. Don’t think about writing.
      15. Ask for help. Take a writing course. Join a writing group.

      And remember you're not alone. Watch 50 Movie Characters Who Suffered From Writer's Block

      Source for video: Ben Watts

      I hope these tips help you to find your way. Happy writing!

      If you want to learn how to write a book, join our Writers Write course in Johannesburg.

      Amanda Patterson by Amanda Patterson. Follow her on  Pinterest,  Facebook,  Tumblr,  Google+,  LinkedIn, and  Twitter.

      © Amanda Patterson

      If you enjoyed this article, you will love:


      Writers Write offers the best writing courses in South Africa.Writers Write - Write to communicate

      A Really Useful Blog Post Template

      Everyone's blogging - or so it seems. If you have access to the Internet and you're passionate about a subject, you probably follow blogs that give you information about the topic. They probably also entertain you. But why do we return to some blogs and not to others? What makes us click on a link?  

      If you click on the blogging tag on our website, you will find many helpful articles on the subject. This template from ByRegina.Com  is useful to remind you of what works in a blog post.

      If you're new blogging, we suggest you read Social Media 101 - What is a blog? There is also some useful information about setting up a blog in this post: Blogging for Writers.

      If you want to learn how to blog and write for social media, join us for  The Complete Blogging and Social Media Course. Please send an email to news@writerswrite.co.za for details.

      If you enjoyed this post read:

       by Amanda Patterson. Follow her on  Pinterest,  Facebook,  Tumblr,  Google+,  LinkedIn, and  Twitter.


      Writers Write offers the best writing courses in South Africa. Writers Write - Write to communicate.

      17 Things You Probably Never Knew About Arthur Conan Doyle

      Arthur Conan Doyle was born 22 May 1859, and died 7 July 1930. Last year, I marked the day by writing a post about what fiction writers could learn from Conan Doyle's famous detective: 10 Elementary Tips For Writers From Sherlock Holmes

      To celebrate the anniversary of his birthday this year, I want to share 17 quite interesting pieces of trivia about the creator of the world's most famous detective.

      1. Conan is not part of his surname. He name is Sir Arthur Ignatius Conan Doyle. After he left high school he started to use Conan as part of his surname.
      2. He was a medical doctor, having studied medicine from 1876 to 1881 at the University of Edinburgh Medical School.
      3. Doyle had five children – a daughter and a son with his first wife, Louisa and two sons and a daughter with second wife, Jean. 
      4. Five men in his family died in Word War 1 – his first son, brother, two brothers-in-law, and two nephews. 
      5. Conan Doyle was not the first writer to feature a cerebral detective. Edgar Allan Poe and Wilkie Collins both had characters solve mysteries with reason. But Doyle's Sherlock Holmes is the one who has captured the world's imagination.
      6. There is a statue of Sherlock Holmes in Edinburgh, close to the house in which he was born. Conan Doyle's four novels and 56 stories about Sherlock Holmes have never been out of print. They have inspired more than 500 movies and television episodes. 
      7. The author single handedly created a new genre of writing by developing the formula for the true detective story. With the basis of logic and extreme detail, Conan Doyle changed the mould for storytelling of the genre. 
      8. Sherlock Holmes never says 'Elementary, Watson' in any of the works by Conan Doyle.
      9. Sherlock Holmes was not Conan Doyle’s favourite character and he killed him off in 1893. He  told a friend: 'I couldn't revive him if I would, at least not for years, for I have had such an overdose of him that I feel towards him as I do towards pâté de foie gras, of which I once ate too much, so that the name of it gives me a sickly feeling to this day.' Doyle resurrected him 10 years later due to public demand and monetary persuasion.
      10. When read alongside other writer's stories of the 1880s and 1890s, you will see how advanced Doyle's writing style was for his times. It is closer to the more readable, stripped-down style of 20th century writers.
      11. In 1902, he was made a knight for his work on a non-fiction pamphlet about the Anglo-Boer War.
      12. Doyle was on the same cricket team as JM Barrie, the author of Peter Pan. The two also worked together on a comic opera,  Jane Annie.
      13. Doyle was friends with Bram Stoker, and Robert Louis Stevenson was a classmate at the University of Edinburgh. 
      14. Doyle and George Bernard Shaw had a public disagreement about the sinking of The Titanic. Doyle was outraged by the dismissive comments made by the playwright regarding the many acts of heroics that took place aboard the ship as it went down.
      15. There's a square in Switzerland named after him in Meiringen, Switzerland. The town was the setting of The Adventure of the Final Problem. In 1988, a statue of Sherlock Holmes was placed in the village square, now named Conan Doyle Place.
      16. Conan Doyle solved a few mysteries. One was The Curious Case of Oscar Slater - for the murder of Marion Gilchrist, a wealthy 82-year-old woman from Glasgow. Doyle applied the 'Holmes method', in which he uncovered new evidence, recalled witnesses and questioned the prosecution's evidence. Slater was released from prison with £6 000 as compensation.
      17. The epitaph on his gravestone at Minstead in the New Forest, Hampshire, reads, 'Steel True/Blade Straight/Arthur Conan Doyle/Knight/Patriot, Physician & Man of Letters.'  
      For more things you never knew about the famous author, click here

      If you want to learn how to write a book, join our Writers Write course in Johannesburg. 

       by Amanda Patterson. Follow her on PinterestFacebook,  Google+,  Tumblr  and Twitter. 

      If you enjoyed this post, read:


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      Write Your Novel In A Year - Week 20: Getting To The Heart Of The Story

      Welcome to week 20 of Anthony's series that aims to help you write a novel in a year. Read last week's post here

      Goal setting
      1. Continue writing the scenes of your novel
      Breaking it down

      Pacing and plot
      Recently, I found a pristine paperback of James M. Cain’s 1934 noir thriller The Postman Always Rings Twice.  I’ve always wanted to read it – and I’m glad I did.

      I was amazed at the pace of the plot for a book written more than 80 years ago. In Chapter One, a drifter named Frank arrives at Nick the Greek’s roadside diner where the older man offers him a job. It’s clear that he has his eye on Nick’s sulky wife, Cora. It’s clear from just a few lines. Then I saw her and her lips stuck out in a way that made me want to mash them for her. This first chapter is just two pages long.

      By Chapter Two, Cora and Frank have had their first erotic encounter in the kitchen – famously filmed in the 1981 version with Jessica Lange and Jack Nicholson – and by Chapter Four, the pair is already plotting to kill her husband.

      For my book, I realised that I was taking too long to get to that all-important inciting incident.  So I set myself a challenge of setting up the central tension in less than 250 words. It worked rather well. I brought together my three main characters in a few short, vivid paragraphs. It’s something I may use. Is this something you could try?
      Finding the beating pulse
      In Postman, the beating heart of the story is the desire of Frank and Cora to be together – a desire that will lead to murder, betrayal, and another shocking death. This is something that the writer latches on to early on in the story and doesn’t let go of it. It’s possible that his experience as a screenwriter taught him how to keep it lean, fast, exciting.

      This week a student asked me, ‘Do you always need a subplot in a novel?’ The answer is, ‘Not always.’

      There’s no subplot in James M. Cain’s novel. He keeps us locked into the main storyline and doesn’t let up— driving the story towards the next brutal plot point. However, keep in mind it’s a very short novel, just over 120 pages. The writer kept the story constrained to create that claustrophobic tension.

      What is the heart of you story? For my novel, it’s Jenna’s will to protect her relationship with Matt – and herself – from a dangerous third party in their relationship. At an elemental level, it’s a will to survive the antagonist. I need to remember this, if I’m to stay on track.

      The argument for unlikeable lead characters
      Staying with Postman, there’s no denying that Frank and Cora are not heroic characters. Selfish, venal, brutal – these two bad people find each other and bring out each other’s ‘badness’ to a whole new level.

      That works well if you’re writing a noir thriller. But if you want the reader to feel empathy for a character – especially the main character – you have to pay attention to their actions, motivations, and decisions.

      This is something I’m struggling with in my novel. For Jenna, my main character, to agree to a threesome with her boyfriend, Matt, and the antagonist, Monty, seems like something that could erode the reader’s belief in her.

      I had to rethink her motivation as I went back to my character sheets and synopsis. What if she doesn’t agree? What if she is the one who makes a decision to stop the seduction before it goes too far? (Of course, it will still be too late as Monty is already in their lives.)

      Part of me likes this approach, as it empowers Jenna. Your lead should always be making the most decisions. On the other hand, I worry that the readers may feel cheated of a big moment in the story. I think this is something I should experiment with – and try writing the scene both ways.
      Timelock — 2.5 to 5 hours

      Write for a half hour or hour a day.

      5 Quick Hacks
      1. Rewrite your opening as a short poem – focus on the imagery and emotion rather than the plot.
      2. Take a scene you’ve already written. See if you can take it in another direction. List five possible ways it could be different.
      3. Your character sits on a park bench feeding the pigeons. What’s on their mind? What do they regret? Do they recall a fond memory? A good joke?
      4. List the decisions your main character has made so far in your book in a line or two. Are there enough strong decisions?
      5. Shake up your writing routine. If you usually write in the morning, try writing at night. Try writing from a different location – in the car waiting to pick the kids up, at a coffee shop.
      Pin it, quote it, believe it:

      ‘If your writing doesn’t keep you up at night, it won’t keep anyone else up either.’ — James M. Cain

      Look out for next week’s instalment of Write Your Novel In A Year!

       by Anthony Ehlers

      If you want to learn how to write a book, join our Writers Write course in Johannesburg. 

      If you enjoyed this post, read:


      Writers Write offers the best writing courses in South Africa. Writers Write - Write to communicate.

      All My Friends Are Fictional

      What would Batman be without Robin? What would Garfield do if he didn’t have Odie? This character is in the story to help the protagonist. So whatever the protagonist’s goal is, the friend’s goal is to help him or her achieve that goal.

      Think about your own friends. You have friends you can count on all the time. If you are in trouble, they help you out, and then you have friends you can count on to get you into trouble. Are they always late? Do they ask to borrow money? Does he or she try to steal your boyfriend?

      They can help, or they can ‘try’ to help. Think of Alan from The Hangover. He adds to the conflict and is a catalyst for their trouble. Or when Robin goes off to solve crime on his own and Batman has to save his ass as well.

      Because of their shared past, the 'friend character' helps to show backstory. He or she knows about the difficult mother, the psycho ex and who teased the protagonist in school. Chances are they know and understand the relationship between the protagonist and antagonist.

      The friend shares the protagonist’s morals as well. Birds of a feather and all that. This doesn’t mean that your hero and friend can’t argue and fight. They can disagree about many things. They are usually privy to the protagonist’s crazy plans and will try to talk or knock some sense into him or her.

      They also save your protagonist from solitude. If you character is alone they lapse into internal thought and you increase your risk of telling instead of showing. By discussing his problem with the friend, we are able to show who he is, and we learn about him and his thought processes in a way that moves the story forward, reveals character, and keeps the pages turning.

      Think of our favourite duos: Thelma and Louise, Sherlock and Watson, Tom and Jerry, Frodo and Sam. They are inseparable and they are awesome.

      Make sure your character can phone a friend, literally or telepathically, whatever suits your story.

      Read more about The Awesome Foursome Fictional Characters

      If you want to learn how to write a book, join our Writers Write course in Johannesburg. Please email news@writerswrite.co.za for more details.

       by Mia Botha

      If you enjoyed this post, you will love:

      1. The Portrait Of The Antagonist As A Human Being
      2. The Importance Of Being The Protagonist
      3. May Writing Prompts


        Writers Write offers the best writing courses in South Africa. Writers Write - Write to communicate.

        33 Perfectly Odd Oxymorons

        An oxymoron is "a phrase that combines two words that seem to be the opposite of each other, for example a 'deafening silence'." (Oxford Dictionaries)

        An oxymoron is a compressed paradox. It is a figure of speech where a writer combines seemingly contradictory terms. You may have noticed that I used one in this blog post title. 

        Here are 10 frequently-used oxymorons:
        1. Awfully pretty
        2. Clearly misunderstood
        3. Foolish wisdom
        4. Larger half
        5. Minor miracle
        6. Only choice
        7. Poor health
        8. Seriously funny
        9. Small crowd
        10. Unbiased opinion
        The common oxymoron phrase is a combination of an adjective followed by a noun with contrasting meanings. We use oxymorons because they make effective titles in literature or film, and add dramatic effect, for example, Dead Man Walking, Mr. Mom, and True Lies.

        They add flavour to speech and can also be cynical, sarcastic, or witty and used for comic effect or relief. You will recognise these 13:
        1. Affordable housing
        2. Airline food
        3. American English
        4. Business ethics
        5. Government organisation
        6. Health-care system
        7. Human development
        8. Marital bliss
        9. Military intelligence
        10. Political correctness
        11. United Nations
        12. Weapons of peace
        13. Western civilisation
        The word oxymoron comes from the Greek for pointedly foolish: 'oxys' means sharp or keen and 'moros' means foolish.

        Richard Watson Todd shows us how easily we accept oxymorons as part of everyday speech in this paragraph from Much Ado About English. There are 10 in this example:
        It was an open secret that the company had used a paid volunteer to test the plastic glasses. Although they were made using liquid gas technology and were an original copy that looked almost exactly like a more expensive brand, the volunteer thought that they were pretty ugly and that it would be simply impossible for the general public to accept them. On hearing this feedback, the company board was clearly confused and there was a deafening silence. This was a minor crisis and the only choice was to drop the product line.
        Please share your favourites in the comments section.

         If you want to improve your business writing, join us for The Plain Language Programme. Please email news@writerswrite.co.za for details.
           by Amanda Patterson. Follow her on  Pinterest,  Facebook,  Tumblr,  Google+,  LinkedIn, and  Twitter.

           If you enjoyed this article, read these posts:
          1. Can I? May I?
          2. All About Prefixes
          3. 27 Blogging Tips To Grow Your Business
          4. 5 Fool Proof Ways To Write Better Emails
          5. The Amazingly Simple Anatomy Of A Meaningful Marketing Story


          Writers Write offers the best writing courses in South Africa. Writers Write - Write to communicate.

          The Marshall Plan For Romancing Your Story

          Guest Post by Evan Marshall, author of The Marshall Plan® for Novel Writing

          Spring is in the air (in the Northern Hemisphere) and we want to talk romance. We have noticed a trend in fiction writing: adding a romantic subplot. Publishers tell us this technique is especially popular with readers right now.

          We’ll take a look at it and discuss some examples in three genres: cosy mystery, mystery, and historical fiction.
          1. In cosy mystery, Karen Rose Smith, in her popular Caprice De Luca Home-Staging cosy mystery series, places romantic upheaval in Caprice’s path in Silence of the Lamps. Will Caprice finally find love? Then there’s bestseller Joanne Fluke’s Hannah Swensen cosy mystery series. For years, Hannah has not been able to make up her mind between Mike and Norman. In the latest in the series, Wedding Cake Murder, Hannah meets Ross and must decide among the three men. Whom will she marry?
          2. In the mystery category, novelist Elizabeth George made a big mistake when she married off Detective Inspector Thomas Lynley in her bestselling Inspector Lynley mystery series. Lynley had turned into a fuddy-duddy after he and Helen got married and were on the verge of becoming parents. We weren’t surprised when Elizabeth George reversed course and killed off Helen and the unborn baby. Another example of a single detective series with a romantic subplot is detective Joe Cashin in The Broken Shore by Peter Temple, set in Australia.
          3. Romance is at the core in historical fiction by Philippa Gregory (The Other Boleyn Girl, The White Queen). Kristin Hannah’s The Nightingale mixes equal parts romance and history (and also hits the trending “sisters” category). Romantic suspense in Harlequin Intrigue and Linda Howard’s Mr. Perfect mix equal parts romance and suspense.
          Today, we even recommend that clients consider adding a genre-appropriate romantic subplot in hard-core thrillers. Instead of tying up the romantic subplot with the traditional sugary bow at the end, we advise showing how the couple might get together.

          To sum up, a romantic subplot adds 3-D texture to your story: depth, dimension and drama. It enables you to reveal intimate character traits in your protagonist and others you might not otherwise have any way to show. It also opens the door to adding conflict, flirty dialogue, misunderstandings, mystery, twists and surprises.

           by Evan Marshall. Evan is president of The Evan Marshall Agency and Indie Rights Agency, an independent literary agency based in New Jersey, USA. An expert on fiction writing, he has served as a contest judge for Wattpad. He is author of The Marshall Plan® for Novel Writing, now How To Write A Novel-The Marshall® Plan Software, co-created with Martha Jewett. Evan is the author of ten traditionally published mystery novels in the Hidden Manhattan and Jane Stuart series, called “Miss Marple lite” by Kirkus Reviews.


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