Chapter 23: How to Create the Best Romantic Subplot

I want you to sit and be honest with yourself.  Whether a novel or a TV show, how important are the romantic subplots?  Personally when rereading or skimming back through a book I’ve already read, I find myself stopping at the scenes where the romantic interests finally kiss or some other big step in their relationship.  In shows like The 100, I know my best friend is invested in it purely to see Bellamy and Clarke finally get it on.  A romantic subplot can make or break your story, and you have to make sure that your readers are rooting for them to get together, not wondering why the two are even a thing.

The first question you have to answer is what trope you want the love interest (LI) to fall under in regards to your protagonist (MC) (or other character, if neither of the romantic parties are the main focus of the novel).  Do you want them to be ‘opposites attract’ in regards to one another?  ‘Tall, dark, and mysterious’?  ‘From friend zone to end zone’?  ‘Thin line between hate and love’?

Everyone has their preference, but quite honestly you can pick any as long as you do it right.  I’m going to go into more detail of each trope, but the first message I want to get across is the dos and don’ts in a more general setting.

Be careful not to make the romantic subplot line completely separate from the main plot.  Every scene in your book should be plot-driven, and your characters developing romantic feelings for one another shouldn’t push the brakes on what’s going on.  A good example of this is in The Agency series by Y.S. Lee.  Mary (MC) and James (LI) have different goals that lead them on the same path.  They’re constantly at conflict with one another, and eventually learn that it’s better to work together than getting in each other’s way.  This mutual respect mixed with attraction leads to the two’s eventual relationship.  It’s a slow and steady progression that doesn’t finally come together until several books in, but it’s the perfect example of the “OH COME ON JUST KISS HER” that keeps the readers wanting more.

My second piece of advice is to not lose one character into the other.  Unless it’s intentional and you want a character to come off as a weakling who’s entire being is dependent of the love interest, make sure that you keep clean separations in one from the other.  The best example of this going wrong is Twilight.  Bella had no personal interests, hobbies, anything that distinguished her.  She was shy and clumsy, but that’s as far as her dimensions went. This is brought to light even more in New Moon.  When he’s not there she become a non-functioning, suicidal human.  The book literally skips months and months because her story simply isn’t worth telling without him in it.  While it’s true that romance is a heavy, heavy theme in Twilight, so Meyer might’ve only wanted to focus on the two as a couple, it can also be said that there’s nothing she could’ve potentially written about to keep the readers hooked without Edward there.

Okay, so let’s delve into ‘opposites attract’.  The example I’m going to give for this is my very own Ethlynn and Nash from The Freedom Game. Ethlynn comes from a background of slavery, never speaks her mind out of fear, and almost always takes the time to think before she speaks.  Nash, on the other hand, was born into one of the most powerful families in the kingdom, makes sure everyone and everyone knows his opinion and expects them to take it as fact, and often has to backtrack to stay in the clear because his tongue is so much quicker than his mind.  The two make for an explosive combination.  For Ethlynn, Nash represents the very people who’ve kept her people so oppressed; for Nash, Ethlynn is supposed to be property more than human and to lose to her is to lose all respect from his fellow nobles.  They have the same goal: to gain Professor Maithe’s apprenticeship.  This causes their paths to intertwine and put them face to face more than either would like.  The more time they spend together, though, the more they can’t help but humanize one another.  With an ‘opposites attract’ dynamic, don’t be afraid of confrontation.  It’s what makes this trope so fun to read.  To keep the progression realistic, keep it slow.  Arguments that turn to debates that turn into challenging one another to look at a different perspective.  Give them at least some common morals or interests.  In order to make this combination work, they have to have a firm foundation that makes the other stuff just prat of the fun.

Tall, dark, and mysterious.  For this trope, I’m going to refer to my sister’s book: Clockmaker: A Gothic Steampunk Novel.  Lesauvage (LI) comes to Melek (MC) in need of help to transport a mysterious crate.  She doesn’t trust him and thinks him eccentric despite being attracted to him.  For this dynamic, the key is to be careful in building trust.  Often the ‘tall, dark, and mysterious’ character has trust issues because of their past, and the opposite doesn’t trust them purely based on how mysterious they are.  This makes sense.  Don’t just magically have them trust one another ‘just because’.  If they develop trust quickly, give reason to it.  Don’t make either character go against who they are just because of the other’s ‘dreamy eyes’ or other nonsense.  I’m not saying don’t have the characters get along.  They can be the exact same character type except we know more about one than the other.  Their similarities and differences are completely up to you.  Make it a journey to find more about the mysterious person.  Leave the reader wanting to know more.  Maybe some things happen where you have to question their integrity.  But when it comes to why you start to trust them, give concrete scenes and scenarios that give you a better understanding of why that person is the way they are.

From friend zone to end zone.  As the ever basic Harry Potter nerd, I have to refer to Hermione and Ron in this example.  In particular, I’d like to call out Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire as the crucial turning point in their relationship.  Up until that point there had been some serious hinting at the two eventually becoming an item, but this was the first time that their feelings (and jealousies) were actually vocalized, unless you count Ron being jealous of Hermione doodling little hearts in Lockhart’s lessons.  It’s important with this trope to not skip the friendship phase.  Show why they’re friends. Despite their differences, from the first book we saw that Hermione and Ron would support each other.  Just look to this quote from Sorcerer’s Stone:

“Yes – of course – but there’s no wood!” Hermione cried, wringing her hands.

“HAVE YOU GONE MAD?” Ron bellowed.  “ARE YOU A WITCH OR NOT?”

“Oh, right!”

It shows that even if he’s going to do it without directly complimenting her, Ron is going to believe in Hermione and push her to realize what she’s capable of.

Then, there’s the time in Prisoner of Azkaban where Ron stands up for her faults like when Snape deducts points from Gryffindor for “being an insufferable know-it-all”.  Book-Hermione is much more brash and gives off more of a stuck-up vibe than Movie-Hermione (which only makes her more three dimensional, not any less lovable).  Still, Ron stands up for her saying that Snape couldn’t ask the question if he doesn’t want to be told.  I could go on and on of more examples of the two’s developing friendship, but let your readers appreciate their friendship while desperately wanting them to get together before you finally give it to them.  This trop is especially tricky because it’s so common in real life.

Thin line between hate and love.  For this example I’m going to have to call out my favorite couple from the classic Pride & Prejudice: Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy.  As soon as they meet, Darcy insults Lizzie in front of all of her friends.  Just look at this quote from Elizabeth, “There are few people who I really love, and still fewer whom I think well.  The more I see of the world, the more am I dissatisfied with it…”  Both of them are hard to please and have very different views from one another.  Darcy went so far as to propose, thinking that she wanted it, when she still hated him.  The two are hardly ever on the same page, and even when they are they don’t understand one another’s actions.  It isn’t until the letter where Darcy explains his thinking that Elizabeth begins to change her perception of him.  Sure, there are moments of attraction between the two before then, but Lizzie is so tight in her ways that she wouldn’t act on them when she believes herself to be so morally repulsed by him.  And, that is the key.  The only way to properly shift a ‘love to hate’ relationship to ‘hate to love’ is through experience.  Write scenes that characterize them to one another.  Give them no chance but to understand one another, even when they don’t agree.  Focus on their differences in the beginning and give way to their similarities when you need progression.  Elizabeth was not what Darcy expected from a wife, nor he what she expected out of a husband.  They learned to love one another, and that’s the biggest win to make this trope work.

Before I end this, I want to reiterate that all of these tropes should be written during plot-driven scenes.  First think of the MC and LI’s goals in the book, and figure out how they’re going to overlap one another.  Make them fall in love during the wild, crazy adventure that is your main plot, not off to the side doing whatever they want to lose your reader’s interest.  Doing this correctly can make your readers overly committed to finding out how the two’s love story ends, and doing it wrong can make the reader irritated enough to put the book back on the shelf.  Choose your trope wisely, and take the time to write it well!

Chapter 16: Have The Character But No Plot?

When writing a novel, the idea normally doesn’t come all at once.  Sometimes a scene comes, sometimes a place.  For me, personally, I often get to know my characters first.  They tell me where they’re from, how they reached where they are, their biggest fears, things about them they wish they could change – everything but what they want to do for the book.

So, what do I do?  First, I think about where they are in that moment.  What was their last accomplishment?  Were they proud of it, or has it left them wanting more?  Do they want more of the same, but better?  Or do they want something completely new?

Before I can think of anything else, I like to come up with their network of friends.  What’s their history together?  Do they trust one another, or is there tension?  As developing characters is personally my favorite part, so this is a lot of fun for me.  I like to think how they would interact with my protagonist.  Would they be funny together and provide bits of comedy?  Sexual tension and provide some steam?  An older sibling feel where they can provide necessary guidance?  Or do they absolutely hate each other but necessary to one another in a way that only history can explain?  A story can be made or broken by the minor characters.

Then, I like to think about what my character wants most in the world.  Is it a person?  Respect?  Power?  Or do they want nothing to do with the world anymore?  Now, do I want the story to be revolved around what they want or what the world throws at them?  What’s the worst thing that could happen to them?  What would make them want to do anything?

Or, is it easy for them?  Do they know what they want and are already willing to do whatever is necessary?  They already have the drive and will do it without any prompting?  Well, that’s nice.  But, now what?  How do I make it interesting?  Is there someone standing in their way?  How do I make it personal?  Think back to everything that makes them, them.  What’s the worst thing I can do to them?  As much as I love my characters, that’s always the question to ask.  Whatever’s the worst thing that could happen to them, make it happen.  That’s your story.

 

Stay tuned.. tomorrow I have some VERY exciting news to share with you all! 🙂

Write Perspective: Caraval

 

PURCHASE HERE!

Book Description:

Scarlett has never left the tiny island where she and her beloved sister, Tella, live with their powerful, and cruel, father. Now Scarlett’s father has arranged a marriage for her, and Scarlett thinks her dreams of seeing Caraval, the far-away, once-a-year performance where the audience participates in the show, are over.

But this year, Scarlett’s long-dreamt of invitation finally arrives. With the help of a mysterious sailor, Tella whisks Scarlett away to the show. Only, as soon as they arrive, Tella is kidnapped by Caraval’s mastermind organizer, Legend. It turns out that this season’s Caraval revolves around Tella, and whoever finds her first is the winner.

Scarlett has been told that everything that happens during Caraval is only an elaborate performance. But she nevertheless becomes enmeshed in a game of love, heartbreak, and magic with the other players in the game. And whether Caraval is real or not, she must find Tella before the five nights of the game are over, a dangerous domino effect of consequences is set off, and her sister disappears forever.

Welcome, welcome to Caraval . . . beware of getting swept too far away.

Good for people who enjoy: strong female leads, beautiful scenery description, diverse personality group

Review: Where to begin?  The first thing I’d like to point out is how easily it was for my to fall into the rhythm of the world that Stephanie Garber created.  Her opening scene already had be empathetic towards the protagonist, Scarlett, even though I didn’t know too much about her yet.

Then, we’re swept away to the magical world that is Caraval, now paired with the love interest, Julian.  I’ve always been one who loved the dark, mysterious man.  Perhaps that’s why I was shipping the two from the get-go.  My only complaint about their relationship is how forgiving of his mistakes she is time after time, with little fight against it.  Still, he was so complex with a history that I was dying to figure out.  I have to insert my favorite quote in the book here: “Not quite sure how far she’d already fallen, she imagined loving him would feel like falling in love with darkness, frightening and consuming yet utterly beautiful when the stars come out.”  I enjoyed his progression throughout the story, and how he softened throughout the novel in regards to his willingness to falling in love.

The relationships between the characters was one of the best parts, in my opinion. Scarlett and her sister Tella’s personalities bounced off of each other in a way that only sisters can.  Having two sisters of my own, I could feel the weight that Scarlett felt trying to save her sister.  I loved her struggling between loving Tella and loving Julian, and fighting between her own desires and her protectiveness of Tella.  Even the minor characters had very strong personalities that made you instantly like or hate them.  She was constantly meeting new characters on her journey, trying to decide who was friend or foe.  I liked one in particular, Aiko, who just popped in randomly and was awesome.

Caraval itself was a world I’d love to visit.  It balanced magical curiosity and imminent danger in a way that I have to give applause to Garber.  You wanted to see its wonders and experience everything all at once, even though you knew there was something not quite right.  I felt like I was walking right along with Scarlett and could see and feel its pull all around me.

I think what I love most about this book is how I was constantly filled with so many questions that I had such a need to know the answer to right then and there.  Garber knows exactly how to give you just enough information to wanting more.  This is the first book in a long time that I read in one sitting.

 

Overall Rating: 4.5 stars

PURCHASE TODAY HERE!

 

 

Chapter 15: 5 Most Hated Characters in Literature & Film

As writers, we invest so much time into our characters.  Sometimes, we even end up knowing them better than we know ourselves.  We think up their back story, and learn who that makes them today.  We spend time getting to know what they would do in the situations we throw them into.  It takes time, and it matters.  Characters can make or break a book.  Often the best serious have the best characters that we either love to love or love to hate.

For the sake of relatability, I decided to limit the list to characters in well-known series.

#1 – Dolores Umbridge from Harry Potter

This one is overly obvious.  I mean, seriously.  She’s more hated than He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named.  How the hell does she manage to be more detestable than the Dark Lord himself?  Well, she makes it look easy.  Rowling took the evil of Voldemort but put it in a pink little box tied with a bow.  Think about how complex she was as a character.  She gave depth to the ‘evil’ in Harry Potter.  Pushed it away from a grotesque villain with no nose, evil minions in skull-like masks, and hideous creatures that suck away your soul.  She made evil look polished.  She showed how even the most refined can have the nastiest layers underneath.  There were obvious hints at her being eccentric.  (I mean, y’all did see her office, right?)  So, what does she teach us?  Your main antagonist has followers just like your protagonist.  Challenge that definition.  Don’t have them the same.  Just as you want your protagonist and side-kick to complement each other, do the same on the other side.  You might make someone so beautifully horrible like Umbridge.

#2 – Joffrey “Baratheon” from Game of Thrones

Okay, let’s be real.  His real name is Joffrey Lannister and his death was the first real happiness any GOT felt either reading or watching the series.  There is nothing worse than watching some silver-spooned little brat play victim.  Even worse?  He had them kill a direwolf.  A very easy (yet cruel) way to make your readers hate a character is to have them hurt/kill an animal.  Literally, nothing sets off people more.  Another is to put them up against your more loved villains.  People hated Tywin Lannister, but they respected his counsel.  When Martin wrote the scene of Joffrey versus Tywin, ending it on the note of Joffrey being sent to bed, it marked Joffrey as pitiful.  We hated him.  Even though we didn’t like Tywin, we applauded him in that moment.  Don’t limit yourself to hero versus villain.  Be bolder than that.  Show your villains up against one another, their dynamic.  It’ll provide more depth and create a bigger bond between them and the reader.

#3 – Gríma Wormtongue from Lord of the Rings

He’s a much smaller character as the others in this list, but is too cringe-worthy to not include.  For those who can’t place the name, he’s the grimy little servant who was whispering in King Théoden in Edoras.  For starters, he sexually harasses Éowyn, being known to “haunt her steps,” aka stalk her.  In the film, he also tries to take advantage of her grief of her cousin’s death to lay on some creepy-ass moves.  He also completely exiles her brother, after he tells Gríma to back off.  Hell, he even claims to have eaten (yes eaten) Lotho Sackville-Baggins under Saruman’s orders.  His only redeeming moment was when he slit Saruman’s throat, but even then we were not sad in the slightest to see him die shortly after.  (That scene only takes place in the books for those who are confused.)  How did Tolkien make someone so detestable that even when their last act was heroic, you applaud their death?  Well, for starters, no one likes a traitor.  People theorize that Gríma was offered Éowyn for his services to Saruman, and that’s why he did it.  What’s worse than someone with no moral code who throws away honor for obsession?  Easy.  Someone who’s willing to force the woman, despite her clear disinterest.  To make it worse?  Make him slimy.  He was too pathetic to stand up for himself.  The moment he didn’t have an army under his illusions of power, he ran away.  So, he’s a coward, too.  Also, cannibalism is always a no-go on people’s radar.  In other words, a very easy (albeit drastic) way to make your readers not like someone.

#4 – Jar Jar Binks from Star Wars

Now, the next two characters are a bit different.  Why?  They weren’t designed with the intention of being hated.  Jar Jar Binks was put into the films as a comedy relief.  Their mistake was the sheer level of stupidity.  There’s nothing wrong with having someone who’s not academically inclined – in fact, I encourage it as to show a more variety of strengths in your characters (just because they’re stupid with ‘academic’ knowledge, doesn’t mean they can’t be savvy with their people skills, or maybe art).  Although there were definitely other things wrong with Episodes I – III, Jar Jar played a large roll in ruining the trilogy.  All your characters (no matter how stupid) need depth.  Make them more than just the idiot.  That’s not fair to them or your readers.  All of your characters should be three-dimensional.  Don’t think that just because your character isn’t classically intelligent, that they don’t have layers.  They do.  Still get to know them.

#5 – Bella Swan from Twilight

I expect more backlash on this one, but plain and simple, Bella doesn’t fulfill the role of protagonist well at all.  She is too dependent.  The second book is literally her trying to kill herself constantly.  The book doesn’t exist without Edward, and neither does she.  Now, I’m not saying suicidal thoughts in themselves are a no-go.  But, please, don’t use them lightly.  That’s a very real problem in society today, and instead of using the opportunity to highlight Bella overcoming the terrible thoughts and finding herself, Meyer had her completely lost until Edward was back.  That’s not okay.  She was not developed enough as a character.  Make sure you establish your characters independently from one another.  Yes, have them complement each other.  Dynamics can be really fun to write.  But, please, make a character more than their dynamic with the other characters.  Give them values and passions past staying with their boyfriend.

Chapter 14: Action Plan

I’ve been querying the Freedom Game to several agents.  Right now I’m sitting at seven submissions and three rejections.  And, as most of you know, a non-response is still a response.  Every time I see the rejection email, I’m hit with that little twist right in my heart.  Several of the agent are very gracious, reminding me that the literary arts are subjective, and that just because they didn’t connect with my piece doesn’t mean that it’s not good.  Well, nice words aside, that’s exactly what it feels like.

Well, guess what.  I don’t care.  I wrote a damn good book, and I know it.  Is it perfect?  No.  Is it better than my last novel?  Hell yes.  Can I honestly picture it on a bookshelf at Books a Million or Barnes & Noble?  Yes.

I can honestly see my target audience (Young Adult) picking up this book on just an average day.  I can picture them reading about my main character Ethlynn and falling in love with her.  I see people arguing over if she belongs with Nash, the main love interest, or her best friend, Wystan.  I can see my readers growing along with Ethlynn and finding their strength.

It’s going to happen.  I’ll continue querying, and will do so until March of next year.  That’s the deadline I gave myself.  If by then I’ve still only heard rejection, then I’ll self-publish.  Then I’ll self-publish.  Plain and simple.

So, what have I been doing in the mean time?  Writing the sequel.  I’ve told you all in the past how major selling platforms have algorithms set up to help you advertise up until 30 days and then another until 90 days.

Right now, I’m not sure how many books this series will be, but I know it’ll at least be a trilogy.  Even though it’s not for certain that I’ll be self-publishing, I want to be prepared.  (Also, I absolutely love these characters and writing their story.)  If I take the Indie author route, I want to be able to publish the novels within 90 days of one another.  I’m still a business woman at heart, and I can’t imagine not taking advantage of the marketing opportunity.

I’m still presented with the problem: me.  I’m a slow writer.  This year I’ve finished the Freedom Game and written over 17,500 words of its sequel.  In 10 months.  Thinking realistically, I want this second book to be completely finished before I publish the first.  Ideally, I’d like to be well into the third, already outlining the fourth.  (My writing style involves me writing the original outline of the following book whilst writing the predecessor.  This means that I can add in foreshadowing and adjust my subplots to make them more relating to one another.)

What’s the point of all this rambling?  Writing itself is the reward.  I don’t write for anyone but me.  With that said, I want to get books published.  I want them to do well.  The better my books sell, the closer I am to being able to do this full-time.  That means I have to come up with a plan.

My final thought: set up an action plan for your writing!  Make it happen.  Success hardly ever falls into our laps.  You have the same 24 hours in your day as any successful author.  Use them.