WANT vs NEED

Last month we took a step back from Boy meets Girl to focus on some preliminary work. Although you can certainly throw your Hero and Heroine together on the first page, it may be better to show them apart first.

Then, when Boy Meets Girl, you’ll have the opportunity for SOMETHING to catch your characters attention - and that SOMETHING will directly relate to what is missing in that characters life. Just be careful not to be TOO obvious about it.

Remember, your hero and heroine go into this story ready for love. Even if they don’t know it. Love is what they NEED, not necessarily what they want. If you asked the hero and heroine on page one if they’re looking for love, they would categorically deny it. Might even say HECK NO! I never want to love again. (Oooh, backstory.)

But in that first meeting, you can give the reader a glimpse into why these two are perfect for each other. Which means you have to know all that before you start writing.

If you look at the beat sheet I introduced last month (http://jamigold.com/2012/11/write-romance-get-your-beat-sheet-here/) you’ll see that the very first thing listed is the “Opening Image/Hook: Opening scene or sequence of story; create empathy with characters by showing they lack for something.”

Now this lack that you introduce in the first scenes will be made up of things the character thinks he or she NEEDS. To save the ranch. To get that promotion. To fix a relationship. To attend a crucial event. You get the picture. (Quick assignment - go pick up a handful of romances on your shelf - read the first few pages and jot down the initial WANT for those characters.)

In these first scenes, you want to “introduce protagonists, hook the reader, and setup the romance conflict (foreshadowing, establishing stakes).” Does that sound daunting? It can be. But that’s why we read a lot of romance - to analyze and absorb how that’s done. And that’s why we do all that preliminary character work.

In these initial pages, you want your characters to come across as likable and to have wants that the reader can identify with. To do that, you have to know your characters. REALLY know your characters.

Why does she NEED to save the ranch? What’s in it for her. What’s behind that need/want? If you don’t allow your reader in to see the why then you won’t keep them reading, you won’t keep them caring. Most people never have a NEED to “save the ranch” - but most all of us can identify with keeping memories alive or fulfilling a responsibility that we’ve carried for a long time, or simply the need to make a living.

Are you confused by my interchangeable use of WANT and NEED? Remember, rarely does a character go into his/her story knowing what he truly needs. He knows what he thinks he needs. But that’s what the character arc is all about. The missing link in the hero’s life will be in the possession or person of the heroine and vice versa.
You’ve heard the phrase “he completes me.” Well, there it is.

A hero or heroine will likely go into the story not even guessing that there’s a huge hole in their life. One that only the “other half” will fill. That’s what the story is all about. That’s what the character arc is all about.

So, make sure you know what the true need is. But you don’t have to play that card yet. Please don’t. Simply open the H/H’s story with their normal world - skipping happily through life oblivious to what’s coming.

Make sense?

And if you’re still not sure how it’s done - keep reading great romance novels - the ones on the keeper shelf. Read them. Analyze them. Go through with the beat sheet in hand and figure out how that author did it. And don’t forget to WRITE.

Until next month - BiC HoK - Butt in Chair - Hands on Keyboard.

Writing Romance – Starting with a Great Hero

Which came first, the plot or the character? Likely a question as old as fiction writing.

I’m not going to answer this question so you can relax.  But what I am going to say is that, at least for romance novels, readers fall in love with characters.  Not plots.  So where do we start writing a romance.

My opinion is that we start with a hero.

Let me tell you a story.  Years ago, I was driving back to Westcliffe from Pueblo West, along that stretch of Highway 50 that is straight and barren.  I zoned out for a moment.  When I zoned back in, for just an instant I didn’t know where I was.  My “what if” took off and, by the time I got home, I had the beginnings of the plot for True Valor.  More important, though, I had Nic.

What I did in that instance is take a germ of a plot - what if the heroine finds herself behind the wheel of the car, not knowing where she is, how she got there, or even who she is.  She needed a hero.  But what sort of hero?  Nic D’Onofrio is an Air Force PJ (Pararescue Jumper) whose nickname is Batman.  He simply can’t help himself - he HAS to rescue those in trouble.

That was a little side trip.  But let’s get back to what makes a romance hero.

Well, that sorta depends.

Susan May Warren, in her book How to Write a Brilliant Romance, says that first of all, a hero much be NOBLE.  I think she’s right.  I’d add honorable, gallant, virtuous, courageous, valorous.  In my True Heroes series, I used those in the titles of the five books. 

Did you realize, though, that within the romance genre, there are categories of romance heroes?

Author Alicia Rasley breaks down the categories this way.

  • The Alpha Hero
  • The Beta Hero
  • The Delta Hero
  • The Theta Hero.

Jo Beverly adds a Gamma Hero.

And what about the Warrior Poet?

Tami Cowden has these hero archetypes:  Chief, Bad Boy, Best Friend, Charmer, Lost Soul, Professor, Swashbuckler, and Warrior.

Confused yet?  Don’t be.  It’s all good.

Laurie King has her list:  the Duke, the Laird, the Golden Boy, the Lone Wolf, the Warrior, the Brain, The Libertine, the Black Sheep, the Sorcerer

The thing to remember here is this: 

Powerful Characters create Powerful Drama. 

So, above all, we want our hero to be a character that catches the imagination of the reader and holds her in place, flipping pages, until that last kiss.

In the next few articles, I’ll go into detail on some of these hero types and what makes them tick.  Your homework is to think about your favorite romance hero.  What makes him heroic?  Why do you love him?  Feel free to comment.  That will be fun!

Until next month, campers, remember BICHOK - Butt in Chair - Hands on Keyboard.

Jax