The Dance of the Seven Veils

Aren’t you guys fabulous? I got some great comments about the whole digging deep deal last post – really set off lots of lightbulbs for me, especially with the WIP I’m going to be subbing next. So big cheers and thanks to you all for commenting!

Anyway, that digging deep post really set me thinking about the problems I’m having with this current WIP. I know these characters so well now that I am forgetting the reader doesn’t. Remember the hero burning his toast? And the digging deep we did below the surface? We found out his real fear is that he’s inherently unlovable. Now the thing is, he doesn’t know that in chapter 1. In fact, in chapter 1, he’s fine. His life is great. It takes the whole book for him to realise that he’s not fine and it’s not until right at the very end that he understands why he isn’t.
Make sense?

Well, imagine my burnt toast hero thinking he’s not lovable in chapter 1 and that’s pretty much sums up my problem with my wip. I’m revealing my characters too early. I don’t have much in the way of external conflict – okay ANY external conflict – so I really wanted to get to the heart of their problems, get that conflict down on the page. I had my heroine – who doesn’t want a relationship – freaking out in day two of them seeing each other. But come on, really? She’s having a nice time with him sure but would she really be feeling worried? Just because you’re having a nice time with a guy doesn’t mean love, marriage and babies is on the cards. Especially if that’s not what you want. Besides, as far as she’s concerned she’s having a holiday romance, there’s no way she’d want anymore so freaking out about enjoying herself the second time she sees him is a bit odd wouldn’t you say?

Bascially what I did was dig too deep, too early (made her too self aware if you like). Sure, you need to let the reader know she’s enjoying herself, and maybe hint a little that she hasn’t had so much fun with a guy for a long time (cos this is special yes?) but save the freaking out for when she really needs it.

Which brings me to my blog title. Without mentioning stripper poles and pasties, I went for the tasteful option and thought about it in terms of veils. You need to reveal your characters conflict slowly. Like the dance of the seven veils, you drop one veil at a time. Mine didn’t want to do that, they wanted to drop three. Hey, my heroine went for broke and threw them ALL off, the silly girl! Anyway, slow is what you want so that by the end of the book, all the veils are down and we can see what’s at the heart of the problem for these characters.

Other people have other ways of saying this. Kate Walker I think calls it the layers of the onion. I quite like the veil analogy because it’s also how the characters reveal themselves to each other as well as the reader. Slowly, as trust grows between them, they allow another veil to drop, letting the other person see a deeper part of them. Not having conversations about how they hated their parents in chapter two after they’ve only just met (Jackie, take a bow!).

Anyway, that’s just my take on it. The speed at which your dance progresses really depends on the story though. Sometimes it’ll be fast, sometimes it won’t. But what you don’t want to is have naked characters half-way through the story because then there won’t be enough conflict to get you to the end and you’ll be forced to throw in a car chase or something.

So, anyone have problems with their characters throwing off veils willy nilly or is it just me?

17 thoughts on “The Dance of the Seven Veils”

  1. I love the idea of a hero who thinks he’s fine in chapter 1 and gradually realises he isn’t. So often he’s already brooding and wounded and you want to save him. Love it!

  2. Nicole – that’s great going! Don’t ya love that feeling??

    Lacey – oh, good! Actually though, sometimes the hero isn’t fine but he thinks he isn’t fine for all the wrong reasons. That can be good too.

  3. Jax.. I am still having trouble layering the conflict..

    Mine are novellas so far and well, the current revisions I have got is regarding the very thing..

    First of all, I should decide what my heroine will do.. jump to bed with hero or be wary. The moment I nail that, I think I have the conflict down.

    And funny part is, I feel am almost there.. but the light isn’t shining at the end of the tunnel. May be I should spend some more time in her head..and hear what she says… The hero is of course, pretty straightforward.. (I’ll tackle him later) !

    Your posts are so insightful that I am nodding my head and wondering if I can ever see my MS in such a clear light…..

  4. Ju – what your heroine will or won’t do will depend on who she is. So yeah, spend some time in her head. What’s her past? How does she feel about jumping into bed with someone? Is she okay with it or have there been problems in the past for her? Is sex something she’s comfortable with but emotion not so much? Or is it the other way round?
    I had this same problem when it came to my heroine. And the reason it was a problem was because I hadn’t thought about this area of her life. Once I’d done that, it came together. Does that help?

    BTW, sometimes a blog post is one thing, actually making it happen in my ms is another story! 🙂

  5. I always start out with the hero/heroine having a goal. It moves the story forward and gives hints as to what’s really bothering them without having to spell it all out. As the story goes on, you begin to show the motivation beneath the goal and eventually the character sees it too.

  6. I’ve always used/borrowed the layer analogy, but veils are sexier! Way to go Jackie!

    Like Cat, in my MS I start with my H/H goals (but these goals MUST stem from their internal conflicts)which puts the two of them in opposition. This creates the external conflict that starts the book. As the H/H work through this then they hit what they THINK is keeping them apart (usually about 1/2 way) only for things to get worse/come more unraveled as they finally reach full self awareness about what is REALLY keeping them apart.

    But before I ever start writing, I nail down that IC FIRST and keep it posted on my computer so it keeps my characters consistent and their conflict driving the plot, so to speak.

  7. Jackie,

    Fabulous way of putting it. And yes, veils are much sexier than layer upon layer of onion skin being shed, makes me think of Shrek! I love me a good reveal so a hero thinking he’s fine and realising he’s not sounds about perfect. And if the Mills & Boon thing doesn’t work out for you, which it ABSOLUTELY will, you could write blogs for a living. Excellent stuff yet again.

  8. Cat – Yes, that’s a great way of looking at it. Hmmm, think I may have made my hero a bit too aware of his motivation… 😉

    Amy – great to nail that IC first eh? This story is different – I don’t have any external conflict. I guess they have their external goals do bring them together at the beginning but that’s it. Yes, I do like that point where they think it’s all good but it isn’t really. hehe.

    Aideen – yay for sexy veils! I too like a hero like that. Being paid to blog? Where do I sign up?? 😉 Think I’d rather write stories though…

  9. Jackie, the beauty of the veils is that they can reveal a lot without actually coming off. The fact that there’s seven and they’re in constant motion means that there can be glimpses into character that then get covered up and revealed again from a different angle. So it’s the fluidity and the subtlety that make all the difference, and give you “more” than just seven layers/veils to work with!

  10. Hi,

    Love the post!

    Late in with veiled veiling, but have to say veiled implication through character thought-mode can be utilised to reveal a mere hint of intrigue without actually giving away mystery/secret element!

    Sounds complicated – it’s not.

    Take a character who may have experienced something traumatic that happened in the past, (not the usual death of a partner plot -more original than that)and life isn’t exactly perfect with a broken romance out of the window.

    Then something happens to change that heroine’s life seemingly for the better – everything going swimmingly until something said which triggers fear, fear of exposure! .

    Worse, the ex boyfriend turns up. The hero hasn’t given up on the heroine, and although the reader already knows about his past, nothing is black and white where he’s concerned either.

    The heroine meantime is torn between duty to an employer and love for her ex, her employer with hidden agenda and most of his secrets from the past revealed in full to the heroine. so on and so forth.

    A tragedy occurs and all the veiled implications “that nothing is quite as it seems”, which the heroine has teased the reader with are finally woven together and revealed in the last few paragraphs.

    In that moment when the veil falls away, (literary sense) the hero is stunned because he thought his movie star mask was a great disguise but hers knocks him sideways!

    Yep, veiled snippets of info keep one turning the pages, that’s why I love writing category romance with a thriller-like thrill factor for added tension!

    best
    F

  11. There’s just so much to think about – that’s probably where I’ve been going wrong all these years, forgetting to remember all the different things that go into a story.

    XX

  12. Interesting post and comments. I too love the veil analogy. I’ll have remember that. I tend to think of it as pacing, maybe because I also read a lot of mysteries. I outline my chapters before I write them. Not necessarily all at once; sometimes just a couple at a time. In general, I think it helps to think about this from the beginning.

    Mind you, I just finished my first full-length novel and probably made many mistakes. After reading this, I’m not sure if I have enough IC.

    Anyway, I enjoyed this dialogue. Thought provoking stuff.

  13. Veronica – good having discussions like this eh? After this post and looking at all the comments, I’ve gone back to my wip and have fiddled more with it. I love blogs. 🙂
    Outlining chapters is probably a great idea. I’m a pantser though so it’s hard enough for me just to get a synopsis down first. Maybe I should give it a go.

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