Monday, June 25, 2012

Why I Screamed "Give Her The Book" For Twenty Minutes

* Warning: This is a long, rambly post. Stick with it, I promise it has a point. 

(Or, the importance of a MacGuffin. Loosely defined as the tangible thing a character wants. It also serves the role of a representation of the intangible thing a character wants.) 

One of my all time favorite movies is (500) Days of Summer. It's a bittersweet movie featuring a male lead with an incredible, INCREDIBLE movie soundtrack. So, when I heard about another movie (older) that also had a male as the central character that also had a bittersweet ending, I was in. 

The hero tells a mystery love story. The viewer doesn't know who he'll end up with, but soon I had a top favorite. This heroine had all the ear marks of a romance heroine. Or at least my Achilles heel type of heroine—she doesn't want to fall in love, especially not with the hero.  

Anyway, before they really become great friends she tells him a story about how she's looking for a book. This isn't just any book you can find at B & N or order off Amazon. (Hell, during the time period of this story I don't think Amazon existed.) This book has an inscription from her deceased father. Time moves forward (years) and one day hero finds THE BOOK.

At this point, I'm a puddle on the floor. They could have ended the movie right there and I'd have known how it would end. The hero had the MacGuffin. Since the writers hadn't been sleeping on the job the MacGuffin actually meant something. Since the characters just weren't people serving a plot or being sacraficed on the altar of plot, the MacGuffin said something. And because I checked the running time on the movie, and the writers weren't sleeping on the job, that damn MacGuffin needed at least one more damn beat. 

So, like any respectable romance writer faced with a decent love story I started to scream at the TV, “GIVE HER THE BOOK!” *

The point? 

Yes, a MacGuffin means nada without great character. No parts of your story means anything without great character. It's one of those things that goes without saying. But, a MacGuffin (with great character) can cinch the hell out of character arc, it gives the reader something to hang onto (or in my case a reason to scream), it can even be the way in to create deeper character. 

For me this was a great lesson to be reminded of. I've been having trouble nailing down my character. All I had to do was ask: What is the one thing in this world she wants most? 

What are some of your favorite MacGuffins? What are ways you cinch the character arc? What are some of the ways you create a character with depth?

* Because the writers weren't sleeping on the job, there's a twist. But, he gave her the damn book.

* I didn't name the movie because this post is one long spoiler.

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Behind The Story: Everything You Need

This story sticks out when you line up my books and see what they're about. All of them, except this one, are pure contemporary romances. There's absolutely no sense of an otherworldly element.

Why did this one become an oddball?

Freak accident is why.

This book was supposed to be part of a novella with another author. That fell through. I was writing humorous women's fiction at the time that had a very strong magic realism element. I was more than sure this was the direction my writing would go. I was once again leaving behind contemporary romance. (I hadn't learn yet this is what I come back to.) I didn't see any problem adding in a disgruntled angel named Angie. (We did talk about how I'm original, right?)

So, I wrote this book and then spent three years trying to make it into something it would never be. For one, I tried to make Brice less stubborn and willful and...less like Brice. I tried to figure out how to cut out the magical element, because I wrote pure contemps. Hazel, well, I always thought nothing was wrong with her except for her love of Brice who was opinionated, passionate...well Brice. Before I decided to self-publish I was intent on opening the document where this story had grown dust and took up room on my harddrive and deleting it. I was going to wipe this story out of existence.

Two things stopped me. I had already edited the book. Like sent it off and had someone take a pound of flesh out of this book, do their best to fix my wayward sentences and so on and so forth. I had sat down and fixed all the things she told me to fix. I'd done all that. The second reason was everyone who had no thought to what this book was supposed to be liked it. They liked Hazel. They even liked Brice because he was the kind of insufferable but loveable hero. They absolutely could not wait for Tony's story.

With that in mind I decided to let the book speak for itself. It's one of my bestsellers. Who knew? (Ok. Everyone but me.)

In the end, even though I was dead wrong, I get to write Tony's story. He's a charmer. I love to write charmers. I do. I absolutely do. So, I'm calling this a win. (Here's a link to Tony's storyboard.) (You can check out my books tab to find out more about Everything You Need.)