Silhouette Intimate Moments that is.
I read a book this morning that struck me in its dedication to character development.
I've been trying to NaNo, and after two days I was stymied by my lack of subplot. My other books started with a vision. Like a schizophrenic, I could see my character in front of me, crystal clear, at the beginning of the big changing moment in her life. I knew who my heroine was, I knew what she was facing in that moment, and though the story wasn't written for me by any means, I had enough there to build a whole world.
In this book I started with a backstory. She is the sister to my hero of Never A Bridesmaid. We know what happened to her from the previous book, and though we don't know all of the details, we know enough to help inform her character. I knew where I wanted to start this book for her. She had to be in a place where she was ready to receive the love of her hero. I had to create that crystal-clear, life-changing moment for her.
So even though I didn't have that crystalline image in my head, that picture of her in the exact crossroads where she could slide back into unhappiness or step forward with faith into her future, I still had enough of her to start the book.
But shit. Okay, I've started the book, now where do I go? Where's my subplot to go hand in hand with her emotional growth?
A lot of romance books I've read recently are more accurately labeled romantic suspense. Someone is in jeopardy--usually the heroine--and there's a love story intertwined in there too. There's a killer, or stalker, or other kind of psychotic out there trying to possess or endanger the heroine. And the hero, with all his life-skill and badassedness is gonna stop him. Romantic Suspense makes for a compelling read. There's a built in page-turn going on there. Is the bad guy gonna get her? And if he does, how will the hero save her?
However for me, that's always a bit of a cheat. It's a romance. The hero and heroine are never going to die. The bad guy is always going to be stopped. It's why I don't actively seek out RS. There's no real suspense there. In fact, even the mysteries that I do read, unless they're single title (which they are not) have the same set up. The lead detective of the series is going to live to solve another mystery, so I can never buy into any scenario where her life is in danger. (Secondary characters are in a much more precarious situation and I do admit to biting my nails for them from time to time.) But I'm a romance reader, I'm in it for the happy ending. I'm not in it for the murder mystery.
In the development of any romantic mystery something is usually sacrificed (for word count), and that sacrifice is usually in the character development, in the emotional connection. The sitting down and talking it out, the happy non-adrenaline-infused moments are what really allow the reader to believe in a true HEA. The couple that can talk out their problems (not just kill them) is the couple that's going to last.
So now I'm looking for a subplot for my NaNo book, and I know without a doubt the emotional growth my heroine needs to experience. I know what holes in her character need to be shored up by the love of her hero. But none of this will be served by the traditional life-in-danger trope. And more than that, how many of us can really relate to that level of stress and fear? How many of us have been the objects of a serial killer's obsession? How many of us have been stalked by a psycho who leaves clues in our mailbox, and whose actions have left room and time for police presence?
In comparison the book I read this morning was much more relatable. The hero had made mistakes in his past that he was working to overcome. He was also working to overcome things that are a lot closer to home for most of us - familial disapproval, community judgement, personal disappointment in the way he's lead his life. The heroine is struggling with the same things, but from a different perspective; and recognition of that similar struggle in each other is where they find their connection. Watching them admit their personal lacerations and how they've been scarred by them is what brings us into a deep understanding of these characters, and also what lets us know that they have enough faith and trust in each other to weather the roughest of life's storms.
In my subplot search I had forgotten that vitality and that page-turning quality can be created from simple emotions. No one has to be planning a betrayal. No one has to be behind the door with a glinting knife. The simplest Will She or Won't She set up of trusting in love is enough to keep the reader glued to the page. It's something we used to get all the time in Silhouette Intimate Moments, and it's something I miss.
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