Thursday, June 30, 2011


The Contemporary Challenge: How to write 300 pages of romance without demons, death, or world destruction with Julie James and Beth Kery/Bethenny Kane

5 topics that anyone writing a contemporary romance should consider

Characters: How to make ordinary characters likable and immediately compelling. Give your characters characteristics we all can identify with. 2 tricks -- make me feel bad for them or make me like them. Open with a scene that makes characters sympathetic – unable to sleep at 3am because hotel neighbors are having a sex marathon, someone knowing they are about to get fired. Open with a scene that makes them likable – showing them being successful at work it shows they are ambitious, show that other people like them. Readers like people that others like. Show the character doing good things, catching the bad guy, something heroic within the modern world.

The alpha hero in the contemporary romance. Paranomal heroes can be almost beastial, primal. If your hero is very alpha, give him a quirk or vulnerability. Very macho, brusque character can also be an artist and wear glasses. Make him appealable to a larger audience. Make him sick so the heroine has to heal him a little bit. An alpha guy head over heels in love who will do anything for his lover softens his alpha qualities. Make sure if your best girlfriend described his as her new guy, you wouldn’t tell her to run. Give him a best friend who is not an alpha. Humanize them through their friends or pets.

Stakes: complicate a plot, keep the pace building. There is usually a plot and a subplot. Plot is the romance, subplot is whatever else is going on. You need a strong conflict right from the beginning. You have to show how these two people who we know will end up together, will not be getting together on page 50, or 100 or even 200. What keeps them apart once they start liking each other. There can be more than one conflict – initial conflict can be that they annoy each other, and then becomes concerns about getting involved with anyone due to work or something.

Subplot is often the set-up of the book. She witnessed a murder and the FBI agent needs to protect her. Often involves a job. The stronger the characters motivations in the subplot, the stronger the emotions will feel. If the heroine is trying to get a job, show why she needs this particular job in order to make it a motivation. Subplot increases the conflict, tension, motivation.

Adventure in a contemporary romance is falling in love. High emotional stakes. Build and inner world that is believable for why these people aren’t having a happily ever after by page 50.

Pacing should be two steps forward, one step back. In a high emotion scene, cut away to a scene involving other people. Gives readers a relief from being angsty and overly emotional. There has to be some degree of emotional risk.

Romance & relationships: Building sexual tension helps keeps the focus on the relationship. Sexual tension is all about conflict. If things are too easy, there is nothing to drive the story. H/h immediately at odds – like fighting for the same job – sets them at odds and create tension would be external conflict. A past falling out creates internal conflict.

H/h feel conflicted about how they feel about one another. The slow burn, Mr. Darcy / Elizabeth Bennett effect. They do not want to like each other, but they can’t seem to help the attraction.

Body language is very important, the way people look at each other can really ratchet up the tension.

Relationships with your main characters and others. Friends and family. People have friends, siblings, kids, co-workers, old friends, enemies, they don’t exist in a vacuum. Gives a different impression of the character when seen with people she likes, rather than someone she’s conflicted by.

Prior relationships can factor in as well, because it is reality. Exes are very useful in contemporary. Past relationships shape who we are and provide conflict. Walking in on your fiancĂ© sleeping with another woman and she vows to never have anything to do with another womanizer. So of course, the hero in her story would have to be a womanizer. You can’t have cheating, be careful that the reader won’t feel bad if the person the character is currently dating is dumped, but they also can’t be evil because that means your character has bad judgment about people.

Levels of sensuality – sweet and innocent to sexy and erotic. Be comfortable with whatever sexual interaction you are writing. Make sure every sex scene drives the plot, reveals character, is emotionally driven (even if it is driven by anger or desperation) and there for a reason.

Settings/series/extras: Create a rich, textured world. Create a locale that readers want to visit, a place to escape to. Pick a location that matches the tone of your book. Big cities for a fast paced, sarcastic book. A small town for an emotional, family-driven story.

Locations for individual scenes should match your setting – wine bars in a big city. Cities could have hustle and bustle or elegant anonymity.

Extra things you can add to make the plot feel richer – light suspense. If heroine owns a wine store use Napa Valley, giving a wine tasting, going to a wine party. Show them being good and comfortable in their environment. Build intimacy, comfort for your characters and your reader.

Building a series can build readership – family, a group of friends – you can also use locale – a beach resort or a small town. Bringing in characters from a previous book links them, and readers love it.

Choose something that you know and are comfortable with. It will come through and make the story more genuine.

Craft/Research: Ideas come from anywhere and everywhere. Things that happen to you, things you read about, things that happen to people that you know. Take interest and watch people’s behaviors.

You should research a contemporary. People love to talk about themselves. You won’t get in everything you learn – you’re not writing a book on how to be a lawyer – but that you know it creates a tone that carries through in your descriptions.


Bron said...

Great post - almost as good as being there... Except New Zealand is so much colder.

Amanda said...

Great workup from the workshop. I was there and can't wait to get the recording so I can take detailed notes. Thank you for posting this.