Tag Archives: conflict

How Do You Cope With Two Type-A Males?

Thea Devine today, shaking my head over the never-ending battle between John and Joey, my two resident type A’s. This time, it was over the tufted rocker in the living room. Joey just loves to grab that space away from John — like he has some kind of radar that alerts him when John is about to sit down.

John is majorly tired of Joey’s demands and the way he takes swipes at him. Nor was he as crazed as I was that time when Joey stayed out all night. Plus Joey invariably has a lot to say that John has made abundantly clear he doesn’t want to hear. And Joey eats enough for two people — how do you control that?

They both want what they want — and they’re always at a stand-off. Joey invariably wins — emotions don’t get in his way. But I’ll tell you — when Joey decides to be nice, he’s really really nice. Even to John. When they fight, neither gives an inch.

It’s a beautiful thing to watch — man vs. orange tabby cat, each one determined to stand their ground.

The thing is Joey (for Joe diMaggio) isn’t our cat — he’s my younger son’s, adopted from a friend who took him from a situation where he was being abused. So he has issues. That kind of excuses everything as far as I’m concerned. If Joey swipes at one of us, well — he has issues. Or he’s trying to get our attention (I really believe).

Also, I like to think he’s trying to fill the space left by the death of our beloved doxie. Maybe he remembers that Midgie was always next to me on the couch. Maybe he knows somehow that I occasionally look over as if I expect to see her there. I note that he comes on the couch more often than not now. He cuddles up when he naps, either against me or John on the opposite end. And with all that, he’s become the sweet cat that my eldest son believes him to be.

Still, the type A growling goes on. Maybe the thing is that John and Joey both need to exert control over their territory. And maybe that’s just something that goes with the territory and it’s not for me to parse it all out.

Maybe my job, as always, is to observe and write it all down. But I bet if he could speak, Joey would probably tell me to mind my own business

Do you have any type-A animals in your house (human included)?
How do you cope? Or do you cope? Maybe we should just leave them all alone.

Thea Devine’s books defined erotic historical romance. She’s the author of twenty-seven erotic historical and contemporary romances, and a dozen novellas. She will be speaking at NJRWA’s Put Your Heart in a Book conference in October.

Things Could Always be Worse!

Welcome to another Friday! Casey here.

I’m happy to report that Mystic Hero finally crossed the 60,000 word mark. That means IMG_2249the end of the first draft is in sight! Unlike the previous books in the series, Devlin’s story is a bit different.

He’s got issues. Big ones. And just like in real life – everything that can go wrong, does. We Scribes have mentioned a few times the importance of being mean. And I totally agree with that. The most satisfying tales always involve some emotional pain and the eventual triumph over that pain.

Normal people generally steer clear of conflict. And most people don’t enjoy watching others suffer. At least not in real life (and I know the glut of reality shows probably says otherwise), but I think the big exception is in entertainment. Movies, TV, books – they would all be booooring if there wasn’t some kind of challenge to conquer.

And really, in fiction, we have to be extra tough on our characters. One of the things I realized so far about Devlin’s journey is that I wasn’t being hard enough on him emotionally.

Sure, it was easy to throw bad guys his way. Since I write paranormal, they are often extra weird or super creepy. But I also realized that I was shying away from his substantial internal demons. And that is short-changing the reader. I know when I pick up a romance I want to go on an emotional ride with the hero and heroine.

How does one overcome this problem?

1. Don’t let your characters have what they want. At least not until the very end. Dangle the prize in front of them and take it away a few times. Again, think emotional stakes. What will they lose if they don’t change?

2. Make them earn the payoff in the end. This means, the character has to suffer. They have to doubt themselves, question their choices and reach a low point (or two or three) before they can transform.

3. Bring them to their darkest place and throw in their worst fear in for good measure. And I don’t mean lock them in a dark room. Not unless your hero or heroine has a phobia of the dark and the only way to save the day is to overcome that fear.

4. If you get stuck – ask yourself again – how can I make things worse for this character? Never better. At least not until the very end

One caution  - There’s a fine line between being too sappy or preachy (no one wants to read an ABC After School Special – at least I know I don’t!) and creating an emotionally satisfying and believable experience.

What are your tips for character “bashing”? And what books do a great job of torturing the poor hero and heroine?

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Rest in Peace, Duchess

Hi, Scribettes and Scribes. Suze here.

Jeanne Cooper 1928-2013
Jeanne Cooper 1928-2013

I was going to talk about my recent trip to St. Louis today, but yesterday’s news made me think about something else. Jeanne Cooper, the matriarch of my favorite soap opera, The Young and the Restless, has died. I don’t know if the part will be recast. On one hand, no one can replace her. Jeanne Cooper was Katherine Chancellor (on screen, anyway), and I for one would have trouble accepting anyone else in the role. On the other hand, the longest-running storyline is the feud between Kay Chancellor (her son Brock always called her Duchess) and the wonderful, scheming Jill Foster Abbot, and that’s always been the pivot point on which the whole show turns. Without Kay, we’re going to feel lost for a while until we get our bearings and see which new direction the show will take.

As writers, we can learn so much about plot and character from the soaps. One of the brilliant things the writers of Y&R did in the beginning was to give Kay some pretty big and scary demons. Her husband was in love with a much younger woman (the aforesaid Jill); Kay became alcoholic; she killed her husband in a deliberate car wreck where she intended to kill herself too, but instead survived. This formed the basis of the conflict between Kay and Jill, and although there have been times when they’ve reconciled (at one point, it looked like Jill was Kay’s daughter given up for adoption. This was later proven false), that underlying hatred of each other was always there. And when things got bad for Kay, the writers could always make it worse and send her back to the bottle so she’d have yet another internal/external struggle.

We hear so much about GMC–Goal, Motivation, Conflict. Well the Kay Chancellor storyline (click here for the Wiki article, if you want to read a synopsis) illustrates that beautifully. And as for plots, of course they’re outrageous. That’s why we love the soaps! But notice how every single episode ends on a hook, and there’s a bigger hook on Friday’s show to bring the viewer back on Monday. While your plots might not take the crazy twists and turns of a soap story, every chapter should end on a hook, big or small. Every book should end making the reader satisfied but wanting more (your next book). And if you ever need inspiration on how to throw rocks at your characters (remember the classic advice: Run your character up a tree. Throw rocks at her. Get her back down.), nobody throws rocks like the writers of soaps. Abducted by aliens? Secret babies? A long lost twin back in town and bent on revenge? Why not?!

So tell me. Do you love the soaps? What’s your favorite show (whether or not it’s still running)? What character keeps/kept you coming back for more and why?

The Change Exchange

Long ago, in a publishing landscape far away — does it seem like I’m beginning too many posts this way? I bet you can tell it’s Thea Devine posting today. In any event, Casey’s post a few days ago about flying monkeys called to mind a conference I ran many years ago where I’d invited not only industry people, but also the gentleman in charge of programming at Lifetime TV (seemed like a natural fit, romance and Lifetime), and a producer from USANetwork. I don’t remember anything from any of the workshops I attended (it was a looong time ago) except this: the USA producer talked about writing TV drama and the key to moving the story along.

He said, at the end of each act, something must change.

Extrapolate that for novelists: At the end of each chapter, something must change.

Think about it. Every little shift and setback, a small emotional moment, a big get out of my face statement — and something changes. It can be subtle or monumental. It can be something someone says, or something your heroine sees, or realizes, or theorizes (rightly or wrongly). It could be someone setting your protagonist on the wrong track. It could be a disappointment, a revelation, a decision, an apology, a resolution, an action, or taking no action. It could be something that’s not what it seems or someone’s hidden agenda.

Any of those changes (or any you could think of) should send your protagonist off in a different direction which will lead to more changes, more ramifications and more consequences.
In essence, you’re programming: if heroine does this, then this could happen. Or that. If she says something, someone could be affected negatively, or someone could overhear and spread gossip about it. If she chooses to leave, she will feel free, or she will feel as if she were falling into a black hole all alone. If the hero confesses everything he knows, he would be breaking a childhood code of silence, and therefore implicating his friends in a long ago unsolved misadventure … but he’ll win back the woman he loves.

Each of these moments of change has consequences which then raise the stakes in each succeeding chapter, almost like you’re climbing steps from one complication/change to the next until everything is tied up at the end.

So ask yourself at the end of each chapter: what changes? What can change? If something changed, what would shift? What would send the heroine in a different direction? What if it did? What if it didn’t? What if she wants to stay in place when even when she has choices? What if someone gives her an ultimatum? Or challenges her? What if she walks away from everything? And then wishes she hadn’t. Or is ecstatic that she did?

What happens next?

I leave that to your imagination, your tolerance for change, your aversion to or embrace of risk — in fiction and in life.

Thea Devine’s books defined erotic historical romance. She is the USAToday best-selling author of 25 erotic historical and contemporary romances and a dozen novellas.. Her 2008 erotic contemporary romance, His Little Black Book, was reissued in October. She’s currently working on a new novel.

When in Doubt, Throw in a Flying Monkey . . . or Three!

Happy Friday everyone! Casey here.

Right before Christmas Day I swore that I would finish edits to Mystic Storm so I could send it to my first readers. This book really challenged my resolve. Unlike my other books, it’s taken me all year (on and off) to complete the story.

Part of the problem - I knew the story was missing something. I wasn’t exactly sure what was missing or how it should be fixed. Silly me, instead of following my own tried and true advice – keep going and look back later – I stopped.

Then I was snared, snarled, in a quagmire – take your pick. I was stuck. I even wrote another entire novel (Misfortune Cookie) under the belief that time would solve the problem. You know, a little perspective and time apart and the solution would present itself.

Well. . . no. That didn’t work.

Instead, I had to suck it up and finish, word by gruelling word. Because, by golly, I was finishing Zephyr’s book in 2012. So there.

As a result, this year, I skipped NaNo and finished the first draft. Finally. Problem solved right?

Again. No. The something was still missing. Not a big something, but a more subtle element was needed earlier in the story. By this time, as you can imagine, I was really, really sick of Mystic Storm. Zephyr and I were barely on speaking terms at this point.

What’s a writer to do?

Throw in the flying monkeys. In my case, I did that – literally. Sorry, you’ll have to wait for the actual book to find out how.

The point here is this – conflict is king. If you don’t have it, you don’t have anything. I had clearly defined goals and motivation (internal and external) and I had some conflictsflying monkeys but I needed more of the right kind of conflict. The kind that moves the story along. Never, never throw in a flying monkey (or whatever conflict you choose) just because. It has to serve a purpose or your reader will know you are padding your word count.

Once I solved the “Case of the Missing Something”, I made those edits and now the book is in the hands of my trusted first readers (who are actual readers and not writers). If it passes their reader instincts then I know I’m good to move onto the next stage – more edits!

Whew!

Who knew that some flying monkeys could bring my hero and heroine closer together. Funny how life works isn’t it?

Fellow writers, how do you solve for the missing something?

THE BOOK I HAVEN’T WRITTEN

Thea Devine today.  I’m working on a variety things, but I’ve been thinking a lot about the book I haven’t written.  We all have one of those, the one you started, wrote, rewrote, set aside, tackled again, fell into a rut long before the middle, and packed away because you knew you were absolutely going to finish it — someday.  I think mine is buried in the attic right now just because I’m itching to get my hands on it and of course, Murphy’s Law, I can’t.

I started this book back when I was working for that big multi-national advertising agency I wrote about previously.  In fact, nearly everyone in the copy department, when they weren’t working on copy, was writing a book.  I had no idea what I was doing — I was maybe twenty-three or four.  I just loved to write and the intermittent stabs I made at writing advertising copy petered into one interesting idea one of my bosses used in a tv commercial she pitched which ultimately got shot down.

So definitely not copywriter material (remember I was very young).  But a book … that was a whole other story.

There was small branch library across the street from where I worked, and there I came across a pictorial history that piqued my interest.  From that I devised a scenario with an unconventional heroine,  her male friend, a missing family member (little did I know then that I had one too), an ambitious father, a prim and proper older sister, the daughter of a family friend who comes to stay with the heroine’s family, a housekeeper with a mysterious past, a stranger in town who falls for the heroine, and the town madam.

Sounds promising, right?  I had NO idea how to write it.  I started with the heroine and her male friend on an adventure, but that seemed to go nowhere.  I wrote a prologue with the missing family member, a brother, which made more sense, but then what?  Okay, so what about the daughter of the family friend?  Or better yet, what about the interconnections between the families, and why was the old friend’s daughter even there?  Yikes.  Now I had to go back and account for that somehow, but if I did that, I’d throw some other plot points off kilter.

So — send the family friend daughter back to her father.  But then, the only ones the heroine is at odds with are her sister and her father and maybe the housekeeper.  I also had the mystery of the long-gone brother permeating everything, because the heroine wouldn’t let go of the hope he’d return someday.  Well, okay.  But what if he didn’t?

Put the mss aside for a bit.  And then — start the story with the stranger coming to town who will fall for the heroine.  How do they meet?  Should they meet?  What’s his business in town anyway?  Is he a good guy or is he dangerous? Did I really have to know all that before I started writing about it?

You bet.  And worse, as I continued flailing along, the daughter of the family friend started taking over the story. She was beautiful, greedy, outspoken — that girl could have been the heroine but that wasn’t how I envisioned the story. I wanted unconventional girl to be the heroine.  She flouted conventions.  She was at odds with her family.  She had more at stake.  Wait — what did I mean by that?  So time to put the thing down and think about it some more.

So I thought about it some more — like, oh, 40 years, and now, even though there are days I don’t think I know what I’m doing, I do think I finally know how to write this book. I think it could be pretty good.

I could be wrong.

I still haven’t found the original mss pages I wrote, but I do remember the plot points.  I’m thinking I should just start all over, divef in and see what happens. We all should start all over and see what happens.

After all, we all know how to write it now.

Do you have a book you haven’t written?  Or you want to write?  Or never want to tackle ever, even though the idea of the story haunts you?

Thea Devine is working on her next erotic contemporary romance (and peripherally the book she hasn’t written).  Her sequel to The Darkest Heart. Beyond the Night, will be a September 2013 Pocket Star release.

Let’s Have That Sex Talk

Thea Devine today, talking sex.  Or writing sex, actually, based on a talk I gave at the NJRWA meeting this month.

I’ve been writing erotic romance for nearly all my writing career.  I don’t plot and plan all the sexual compass points.  I have an idea of something I want to do, like, oh say, nipple rings, but I’m pretty sure I haven’t ever started a book knowing just when and where I’d use something like that.  It all comes organically out of the plot and conflicts, and that’s overlaid by other things, like my watching an HBO show one night with a belly dancer and those rings, and thinking, after a week of walking around with my arms crossed over my breasts, what if the rings weren’t pierced, what if they hung there. Just so.  Just so you feel them.  Where could I use that?

As it happened, I was writing Beyond Desire at the time and the heroine was in a harem, and there were all these bare breasts and …  Beyond Desire was the first historical romance that RT reviewed as erotic romance.  That was 1993.

It didn’t cause even a ripple in the industry.  But in 1999 Kensington books shook up mainstream publishing when it released Captivated, a trade paperback anthology of steamy novellas. And they put the words “tales of erotic romance” on the cover.

Nobody fainted.  And the book blasted onto USAToday in about thirty seconds.  Fascinated, the follow-up, blew out of the stores and onto USAToday as well, proving — obviously — that women will pay for sex.

Erotic was suddenly the next new thing.

Then recently, for the last two years or so, there’s been a pull-back on the assumption that readers were going to the internet for erotic content because — why? more privacy, more variety, more tailored-to-the-taste choices, easier access, e-readers.

And then came 50 Shades of Grey , and erotic was suddenly the next new thing.

So what about erotic romance as a platform for you?  Can you write erotic romance?  There are editors who believe that authors who write it can’t NOT write it, that it’s absolutely integral to the way some authors write.

If you’re wondering what your husband will say, your mom, your sister, your minister, if you think people will wonder what goes on in your bedroom — then maybe erotic romance is not for you.

I never had those qualms.  I’ve written explicitly from the get-go, right from that scene in my first book where, as I’ve recounted elsewhere, I had the cornered heroine put her hand between the hero’s legs.  In that scene, I found my erotic philosophical footing — that adversarial relationship which gives a just-can’t-help-themselves edge to the sex and the story.

But when I first started out, in 1987, I couldn’t use four letter words, or proper terms for body parts.  We used none of those one syllable hard hitting hard-core words you would expect when writing a sexually explicit book.  .

Try to describe something which is essentially indescribable:  I mean, how do you describe a kiss?  And orgasm?  A man’s touch?  How do you do that without relying on those time-tested sex words?  There’s no language for it.  Yet we could — by using plain old every day household words to write about sex from a woman’s point of view.

I think that was extraordinary and a revolution all on its own.

Now, when nothing is off the table,  you can be as over the top as you want or care to get.

Is anything goes right for you?  How far are you willing to go?

I essentially write erotic male/female relationships, with the heroine and the hero constantly wresting for control, tons of sex, and a happy, or cusp of happy, ending.

My own guidelines from day one were:  no negative visual images (she isn’t on fire;  he doesn’t impale her with his molten rod). He doesn’t hurt her (he can, emotionally).  She has some control.  Sex is consensual (no matter what’s going on).

But you could push even further — orgies, male/male, triads, foursomes, bestiality, hard core bondage/domination/punishment, corset discipline …  There’s a place for all of it now, and readers for every taste, from graphic and raw to sweet and super romantic..  Only you can decide where to draw the line on how far you’ll go.

A guest at a conference once asked me how much of what I write is really me. That’s a question to strike full-blown terror in a writer’s heart. I really had to think about it.  And truthfully, in the end, some of it.  Not everything.  But that scary thought is huge barrier to some authors to actually put themselves “out there” that nakedly in fiction.  I mean, what if someone thought all of that sex toy play was all about you?  Was it?

If you have constraints but you want to write erotic, why not try?  It’s you and your computer screen.  No one ever has to see it if you don’t want them to.  You can let yourself go — or you can say NO — and delete before things go too far.

But if you really love to write explicit romance, write those scenes as if your characters are Adam and Eve and they just discovered sex — and you did too.

I have to confess I have been asked to tone things down a couple of times.  Once I was told there was too much semen in a particular novella.  Really, people, can there ever be too much semen — in fiction or in life?

You could view erotic romance as a love letter to men — or as a sex act in and of itself (lots of foreplay, climaxes and reader satisfaction).  It’s safe sex, and the best fun in the world.  And if you choose to play, I promise I’ll respect you in the morning.

Can we talk?  Do you write, or want to write, erotic romance?  What are your boundaries? What won’t you do?  What won’t you read?  How far can an author go with you?

Thea Devine is nearly done with Beyond The Night, the sequel to The Darkest Heart.  She is the author whose books defined erotic historical romance and the USAToday best-selling author of 25 historical and contemporary erotic romance novels and a dozen novella. She is looking forward to the reissue of His Little Black Book next month.