Hmmmm, bad blogger me with the weekly posts. I should be doing more. But well, I tend to slow down when I’m feeling in a low patch and have had another dip in the trail in the past couple of weeks. The journey to publication has gone way downhill, past the swamp and the garbage heap, and it’s taking a while to come back up the other side. No particular reason it went downhill, just the waiting angst. And a severe case of whats-the-pointitis.
To take my mind off the incredibly long, winding back road that is my journey to the fabulous city of publication, I have been thinking of a…checklist (for want of a better word) for things that I have to remember whenever I start a new ms. I’m not thinking of a list of boxes here, more a list of things that I commonly forget to think about whenever I sit down to write.
For the past couple of mss, I have been getting way better at character (if I do say so myself). At least the characters are coming together more organically. They’re not just a collection of traits I picked out of a hat with conflict tacked on the end, they actually feel like real people to me. Their external conflict is even reflective of their internal conflict and everything!
But there are some things that I forget to consider and one in particular is pretty damn major – a character’s emotional life. Why is it important? Well, because romance is all about emotion. And emotion is what motivates a character. Oh, they can tell themselves all kinds of things about why they do what they do, but at the very heart of it, it’s emotion that drives them.
Yes, you have your conflict but it’s the character’s emotional response to that conflict that shapes the story. For example, in Mr Rough, my hero is very, very angry. He’s conscious of his anger and he embraces it because it drives his need for justice. And from that I realised that he will not let any other emotion take the place of his anger. It’s the only emotion he will allow himself. I was very happy with that because for me if I know that anger is his reigning emotion, then everything he does will be because of it or about protecting it. It makes him consistent in other words. It also gives me a layer to his character and a simple character arc. Because in order to find love, he has to give up his anger and everything that the anger fuels (justice, control etc etc).
The thing I did NOT do however, was consider how my heroine feels about her feelings. And this gets problematic when the hero and heroine meet because of course when they do, suddenly everything becomes about the feelings. So you have to know how your character will react when confronted by an intense attraction. How do they feel about the attraction? Does it make them uncomfortable? Or does it excite them? When they feel these things, what do they then do?
In the case of my heroine, I didn’t really know and it wasn’t until a CP mentioned her reactions seemed a little off, that I realised the problem. She was behaving inconsistently because I didn’t really know how she would react when she was uncomfortably attracted to someone. And in fact, I didn’t really know how she viewed emotion at all. It wasn’t until I sat down and figured it out that I realised that at the heart of her was anger as well. Except instead of acknowledging it like the hero, she denies it (because of her conflict). And in fact, emotional control in all things is very important to her. So her reaction to intense attraction is to ignore it, pretend she doesn’t feel it, in order to maintain her emotional control. That’s her layer. Her identity. The mask she wears. If she wants to find love, she will have to acknowledge her emotions, acknowledge her anger.
So now I know what to do when it comes to the next mss. I need to know the emotional landscape of my characters. How they view their own emotions and how they deal with them. How their conflict has changed this. Sometimes I won’t know this immediately. Sometimes you just have to sit down and write until you get a feel for the character. But at least next time it’s something I know I’ll have to keep in mind so that the characters act consistently.
What do you reckon? Do you think about this kind of stuff before you write? Or are you a get it all down first kind of writer?