Chapter 31: What The Bachelor Teaches Us About Romantic Plot Lines

I was supposed to get this blog post out weeks ago, but life doesn’t really account for my plans. While my health is something I’d like to continue to keep private, just know I’m not not posting just because I won’t. It’s because I can’t. I’ve missed more work these past few weeks than I’d ever like to, but enough about me. Let’s get into the post.

This season of the Bachelor was “the most dramatic yet”, and I have to say that Colton is possibly my favorite Bachelor of all time. Granted, I’ve only been watching since Ben so other than Ben himself, my options are admittedly very limited… but it wasn’t an ‘you’re the least annoying Bachelor’. I really genuinely liked him, and that’s why I’m writing this post to use his televised love story to help authors write a better love story.

Let’s start at the most logical place: the beginning. To be honest, I was confused at Colton’s methods. Where was my dramatic two-on-one between Queen Demi and Tracey or Courtney? Why did Cassie not get mentioned more than once until she went on her one-on-one or suddenly everyone decided her and Caelynn weren’t ready for marriage?

All the girls talked about the other girls, but instead of coming in to attack the accused, he listened to their side of the story. Although I’m not sure if it was the best way, he had Onyeka and Nicole sit down and hash it out right in front of him so he could decide what to believe. That was our first hint this Bachelor would be different.

But so how can he help us write romantic plot lines? Really, it’s not until the end of the season that I want to make my point. More often than not, a book or series will have more than one love interest – often at most a love triangle, though, so the Bachelor kind of increased that ratio by thirty. Still, you have the main character tried to decide who he or she really loves.

Colton presented a unique opportunity for us authors: write one love interest to be best for the character and another best for the plot. Tayshia/Hannah G made the most sense for the series’s story that it sells every season, but Cassie was the best choice for the ‘character’.

As the author, it’s our job to provoke emotions in our readers. Too often in literature, the standard is to choose the couple that the most readers supported. You painted the perfect picture of why the couple was meant to be together from the first page they were written together, and when they did live ‘happily ever after’, the readers were left with the safe satisfaction that love stories were supposed to make sense from the beginning to the end.

But, how often is that really the case? I’m not saying don’t put the sexual attraction between the two. I’m jump to the other side of the fence (lol) and do the hate-to-love trope that I myself am guilty of enjoying. Sometimes, love doesn’t make sense until it does.

Now, the Bachelor edited the story they wanted us to see – apparently she was writing from the beginning that she thinks she loves him, but her mind didn’t agree. That’s another interesting thought – what point of view is your story being written? Does your main character see the truth, or is the love interest hiding their truth feelings? What does your character see versus other people? How does that affect your main character? Now, you have two advantages here over the Bachelor. 1) You’re characters are always mic’ed. 2) You’re not trying to balance thirty people in the same romantic plot. You have more time to spend developing little moments between the characters in the grand scheme of the central plot.

The last thing I wanted to point out was how Colton did the fence jump. It has two possibilities of negative limelight. The first is that if it was a woman doing the same, she would be perceived as desperate or clingy. The second is that an ongoing discussion in feminism is to respect the “no.” Earlier in the season, we even listened to one of the contestants share a heartbreaking story of sexual assault.

This is where we as authors must draw the line. If we romanticize toxic masculinity, we’re slowing down progress. Portray toxic relationships as toxic. But, that’s not what Colton did.

His situation wasn’t, “She doesn’t love me, but if I just continuously pursue her against her wishes, I can change her mind.” His situation was, “I can clearly see that she wants to continue this relationship [despite everything the cameras showed. Remember, they were un’miced for most of their date in Thailand since they were in the water. He’s said in interviews that was when he first realized how much she challenged him] but is too scared to act on it while there are still cameras.” There’s a difference in writing about a guy willing to do the work to get the girl, and a guy chasing a girl that doesn’t want him.

What I really want to drive home, though, is the interesting complications you can add through the romantic interest not fitting in with the plot. Rather than rely fully on the plot, let your characters guide it. If your character is the type like Chris Soules, who would rather follow the plot than the character – write it (we all see how that turned out). But, if your character is the type like Colton, who would chuck the plot if it meant losing a character – write that. Not to say that’s your only two options, but find how your characters’ love can enhance the plot past the first dimension.

Chapter 28: 10 Questions to Ask Your Characters

Almost every novel’s top five main characters can be broken into these five categories: protagonist, antagonist, sidekick, mentor, and love interest. In a later blog, I will go into more specifics about each of these roles, but for now, I’m going to go over ten major questions to ask these characters in order to flesh them out and give your book quality characters to make the reader fully invested in their story. Some are simpler to answer than others, of course.  You might not think a name is anything more than just that, but I disagree.  I think this Japanese proverb says it best: Tigers die and leave their skins; people die and leave their names.  So without any further ado, here are the 10 questions to ask your main characters:

  1. What is their name? Every author has a different method to naming their characters. There are some other questions to consider when answering this one. What is their culture? What year is it? Some authors like to look up the meaning of names to help them decide. A good website for that is Behind The Name. If you’re writing fantasy, a good method could be finding a real name and altering it slightly. A good example of this is Eddard from Game of Thrones – changing the name Edward into a more gritty sounding name to fit the character.

  2. What role do they play to add to the plot? This can be protagonist, antagonist, sidekick, mentor, love interest, temptor/henchmen, skeptic, emotional, logical, etc. How will their existence complicate or propel forward the plot?

  3. What is their primary goal? Answering this question helps create such complicated plots like in Game of Thrones. (Can you tell I like the series from my many references?) What does their happy ending look like? What are they willing to do to achieve this goal? How does this goal align with the protagonists? How does it interfere with or what roadblocks does it bring to the protagonist’s goals? Will they get said happily ever after?

  4. What are their strengths? If they were being interviewed for their role in the plot, what would they say? A good place to start is answering if they appeal to ethos, pathos, or logos. In the terrible situations they get themselves into during the plot, how can they contribute to the plan to get themselves out of trouble or accomplish some heroic action? A good example is Hermione’s abundance of knowledge and common sense of preparation helps Harry Potter get out of several sticky situations. Another thing to think about is if there’s a trait that acts as a strength in one instance but a weakness in others. This is like how Scarlett in Caraval unconditionally loves her sister.  It gives her the strength to push past several emotionally draining situations; however, it also leaves her less cautious as she feels more desperate throughout the book.

  5. What are their weaknesses? Same as strengths, but obviously in reverse. If the story needs the character’s team to fail in that plot point, how would they contribute to that failing? Their impatience? Anger? Naivety? Cockiness? Stupidity? This is the entire principle that the series of The Agency is written around: a societal male underestimation of women that the protagonist spy takes advantage of continuously in her adventures.

  6. How old are they? This will largely contribute to several of their characteristics because the following answer must be answered: what kind of environment did they grow up in? There’s often the said cycle of: strong men lead to good times lead to weak men lead to bad times lead to strong men, and onward. Also, did they deal with certain discriminations that took place before the plot begins?

  7. What is their connection to protagonist? How do they know each other? If they have a history together, at the very least summarize it for yourself so that it can contribute to their relationship. Does the protagonist like them? Do they like the protagonist? Is there anyone in particular that they are close to or care about?

  8. What is their occupation? How a person chooses to earn money says a lot about them. Could their occupation add to the contribution of why their an asset to the team? An example of this is Philo in The Scorpion King and how is knowledge of science from his job as a court magician helps save the ‘good guys’ more than once.

  9. How will you introduce this character? Is their depiction in that first scene true to their character or do you want to give some misdirection? How much does the reader know about them at their first appearance? Do you want them to be mentioned before officially meeting them or do the readers only know what the protagonist describes at the first hello?

  10. How are they different in the beginning of the story versus the end? In order to be believable, every character needs a growth arc. A good example of this is following Claire Danvers in the Morganville Vampires series. While several of her main characteristics stay the same throughout the books, her bravery grows and her strengths against the varying antagonists shifts.

Chapter 25: Hearing From Your Readers

The hilarious screenshot you see above is from my Sarah in regards to The Freedom Game.

First I’d like to say please excuse my friend’s lovely vocabulary.  She has a wonderfully colorful mouth and the drastic inability to sugarcoat.  That second fact is what made me so beyond nervous when she originally purchased my novel.  If she didn’t like it, she wasn’t going to be able to sugarcoat it.  I would know.  While that is of course valuable to hear back honest feedback, it had me wriggling nervous since I had dedicated so much to this book.

Instead of her attempting but failing to not hurt my feelings and not enjoying then novel, however, I received texts like this.  Not only this, but I received a long snapchat video of her reading around the climax.  The video consisted of her yelling at me for what certain characters had done, and her desire to need to know what happens paired with the fear to read on in case it’s not the ending she wants to happen.  Her cheeks got red, her voice got loud – and she was midshift at her job without a care of the people staring at her.  That right there honestly made me tear up like a wimp.

But honestly, what more could an author want?  Than someone that into your story and that invested in your characters and what happens to them?  She felt betrayed by characters when they did not-so-great things, and then sounded like a proud mother when they did something shockingly heroic.

No matter if sales aren’t where you want them and marketing is more expensive than you’d like, experiences like these are what make writing so much more than worth it.

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! 🙂