Love in the Realms of Heroes

Blog Post by Ingrid Victoria

It’s late February, and the romantic surge of Valentine’s Day is settling back into the hum of everyday life.

But story characters do not have an everyday life – only scenes which serve to move the plot forward. Often, then, when it comes to romance, two (or more) characters are depicted in a whirlwind of big events, jumping from major relationship stage to major relationship stage at whatever pace is necessary to get them together by the final chapter, all the while interrupted by whichever monster, supervillain, or quirky hijinks the story also has to feature.

With all this necessary plot filling up the pages, is there room to add the touches of normalcy to a character’s budding relationship? Is there time to write it unfolding naturally, in a method more similar to how real people may find it? Would readers even care to read these normal tidbits, or are they impatiently flipping through to reach that scene with the dragon or spaceship or supervillain destroying the city?

Continue reading “Love in the Realms of Heroes”

Understandable Romance?

Blog post by Magnus Victor

It has been pointed out by experienced authors that characters in a novel only somewhat resemble real-world people: the actual depths of the human mind are far more complex than even the best authors could describe, if given an infinite number of pages in which to do so. Real-world people make choices and perform actions based on reasons that would seem utterly nonsensical if read on a page, and which they themselves would often find difficult to explain.
Nowhere is this more evident than in the topic of romance.
Writers and philosophers have struggled for millennia to explain why and how people fall into (and out of) love, and with precious little to show for it. This is true for real-world people, but for the written novel it is still a risky decision at best for an author to say ‘and these characters fell for each other, because that’s just how it went.’ People understand that romance is a ferociously complex subject, but for those minutes or hours when those ‘people’ become ‘readers,’ suddenly they expect ‘clear reasons’ and a ‘character arc’ that ends with two fictional characters in love.
This is not a bad thing.
Many people can think of a friend or acquaintance of theirs, about whose romantic choices they have wondered ‘What did s/he see in them, of all people?’ If a real-world person were to be asked such a direct question, often they would find it difficult to answer honestly – human attraction being such a confusing mess of thoughts and emotions. But an author can explore the twists of thought and tides of emotions that lead one fictional character to see past the outer layers of another fictional character, to find the compatible soul within. This can often end up being a more ‘elegant’ story than the disorderly jumble of real-world romance. (The inverse also applies: it can be easier on the reader to be given explicit reasons why their favorite paired characters drifted apart instead of the sudden break that characterizes so many real-world breakups)
In all, remember that a majority of readers immerse themselves in novels in order to experience a world that is ‘better’ than the real world. Readers want heroes to be more successful, technology to be cooler…and romance to be more understandable at all understandable.

Big Ideas

Post by Mattias Bergman

Ideas. Are ideas what makes novels truly great? If so, then how? I’ve been increasingly pondering that question as I study some of the great classics of literature. We focus so much on POV, on characters’ “voice”, on scene-setting, on witty dialog. All of these are necessary, to be sure, but are they what make a novel stand apart?

Does anyone remember the vivid settings of the Grand Inquisitor, for example, or quote the snappy banter of Anna Karennina?

So let us postulate that we need an idea — the over-arching human question that we explore in our stories.

But, ah, this is February — the month of Valentine’s day, and by extension, the month of romance.

So, for the modern novel, do we need not only ideas — and of course POV, setting and dialog — but also romance? If there are male and female characters in our novel, do they have to fall in love? Or perhaps fall apart from one another?

The pressure is on, but there are exceptions. In the Da Vinci Code, for example, the author follows religiously (pardon the pun) the notion of a direct descendant of Christ, *without* the need to have her fall in love with her “rescuer”.

I hate to say it, but I deplore many of the so-called historical novels that take a fascinating period of human history and reduce it to a mere bodice-ripper. Yet they sell.

Take as an example a series of novels I am writing concerning ex-patriate Norse in the Byzantine empire in the late 10th century. It is a truly pivotal time and location, with the future of European and Greco-Roman civilization at stake. The novel explores questions of belief and destiny, and whether one should make personal choices that can have profound impacts on the lives of thousands of others.

Ideas. Big ideas.

But do I need a romance?

Continue reading “Big Ideas”

Spinning Threads I Might Not Finish

Four of our Stonehenge Circle Writers—Karen Blakely, R. A. Gates, Kelly Haworth and Cheryl Mahoney—are collaborating to write a new novel: Pesto, Pirouettes and Potions.  It’s unusual for this many authors to work together on one continuous story, so they’ve decided to blog throughout the drafting, to give you some glimpses into the process.

Blog post by Cheryl Mahoney

Last week R. A. Gates told you about writing Chapter One of the story, and introducing Lola.  I was slated to write second, so I dove into writing Chapter Two of the story.  My main task was introducing Charlie, our second lead character.  Charlie must have wanted to share her story, because the scenes flowed pretty well.  We also did more outlining for this story than I usually do for my own, so I was working with a paragraph of notes on what we decided to include for this chapter.  That may have made things easier, because the roadmap was very clearly laid out.

Since this was Charlie’s first chapter, it was mostly about setting up her character and her life.  I started with the bows at the end of a ballet performance—which sent me down a rabbit hole of research on modern ballet and the levels for dancers within a company!  I started inventing characters to form a community around Charlie, both in her dance company and in her neighborhood, which we had decided is very close-knit.  Even though I was creating characters for Charlie to know, I was also trying to hit the point that she’s lonely right now; her grandparents, who raised her, died a few months previously, and she’s also alone romantically.

The funny part about writing this as a collaboration at this point was realizing that I was setting up threads and ideas that I (or at least, I alone) wouldn’t be the one to write the results for.  For example, I wrote a bit where Charlie is hoping to get the role of the Sugar Plum Fairy in The Nutcracker this year, but someone else may be writing the scene that reveals whether she gets it or not.  With that in mind, I added more notes than usual, detailing what I was trying to set-up and how it might pay-off.  We may not follow all of those ideas, but at least that way it’s noted and can be considered by my fellow writers as they write forward.

It also was interesting to have more immediate feedback for my writing than usual, as I bounced ideas I was having off of my partner writers in almost-real time as I wrote.  I have people I talk to about my writing, but it’s usually not quite so in the moment.

I thought I’d share an excerpt from Chapter Two.  This is my favorite bit, as Charlie struggles to fall asleep and her dog Sammy comes to join her.

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After Charlie’s mind went around the same circles two or three times, and she tried every possible position at least once, she gave up and turned the light back on.  Some nights were just going to be restless and blue, and there was no use fighting it.

She reached down to the bottom shelf of her bedside table and came up with her worn old paperback of The Two Towers.  She opened at random, landing near the beginning of Chapter Four.  She knew the story backwards and forwards, so she started reading where she was.

Only a few pages in, she heard a thump as the mattress shifted, and then Sammy’s cold nose was pressing against her shoulder.

Charlie rolled over to rub Sammy’s favorite spot between his ears.  “At least I have you, right, Samwise?  That was enough for Frodo.”  He’d had an entire Fellowship, but Sam was really the only one he’d needed, to get all the way through Mordor.

Sammy snuffled, turned around twice, and curled up against her.  Charlie went back to her book, the little terrier a warm lump at the small of her back, and read about Merry, Pippin and Treebeard until she fell asleep.