Tag Archives: Fiction writers

What motivates you to keep writing?

NaNoWriMo2014 is over and I was lucky enough to reach the goal of 50,000 words early this year, due to a kick-ass and thorough plot line/outline and the ability to devote time to it every single day. I’m not done with the story yet, not by a yardstick. This challenge is a huge motivator for me to keep on writing after November 30th rolls around. The fact I’ve been able to keep the writing momentum up and sailing is a major reason why I’m so far along in my w.i.p.

With the holidays just next door, this ability to devote so much time every day to writing may – out of necessity – take a back seat. I don’t want it to, and I’m planning on it not, but life does intervene. It’s difficult for anyone, whether they’re writing, or training for a marathon, to keep the momentum at such a high level. So this got me to thinking: How do you stay motivated to keep on writing? What, exactly, motivates you to continue?

For me, the story and the characters won’t leave me alone until I commit them and their antics down on the page. This is the truth: I get woken up from a deep sleep many nights by storylines and characters intruding on my slumber. They want their stories known. Now, before you start to think I suffer from delusions or latent schizophrenia, hear me out.

When my mind rests ( as in sleep ) my characters come out to play in my dreams. They say exactly what they want to say, do exactly what they want to do, and basically tell me what I should be writing about them.

Okay. So maybe it does sound a little delusional and schizophrenic.

What can I say?

Anyway. These characters and their stories inspire me to put their lives down on paper.

And there are a lot of them hanging out in the backroom, tiny recesses of my mind. They will not leave me alone and get out of my head until they are locked into my laptop, so I have to give them a platform. This kind of sounds like a Stephen King plot line: irate characters torment fiction writer until they literally pop-out on the page!

You know…..

So, for me it’s the characters and their desires to be freed from the confines of my imagination.

What motivates you to keep writing? What will be your driving force to keep the momentum going  after NaNoWriMo 2014 is but a memory?

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Individuality

“If I’m going to sing like someone else, then I don’t have to sing at all.” Billie Holiday.

Have you ever heard Billie Holiday sing? Not the Diana Ross version of her voice, but a recording of the actual songstress?Click on this link to get a sample of what she really sounded like. Billie sings. Now that you’ve heard her actual voice you’ll  understand why I put her quote up today. No one. Let me repeat that: No.One. Sounds like Billie Holiday. When you hear her sing you know instantly that it’s her. You can probably say that about a handful of singers. Instant recognition. The voice, the way the song is sung, the way the lyrics are expressed, all aid in helping you know the voice immediately.

How does this relate to writing? Easy. Think of your favorite author. Now think about why they are your favorite author. It’s probably because of the way they tell their stories. The language they use, the descriptors, the way they convey the emotions of the love connection. This is the author’s voice. I’ve blogged about voice before but today it’s from a different slant.

The rules of romance writing – like the rules in life – are guidelines for existence. Life rules help guide us through…well…life. The rules of writing romance are the same. You want to get your characters from point a to point b and then to a happy ending. Along the way you’re not supposed to roam through everyone’s head, allow secondary characters to become primary actors in your work, and you should never make it easy on the love interests to get together.

Now, my favorite authors of every genre break that head roaming rule, and every other “rule” out there. This is why they are my favs. I’m nosy. I’ve said that before and it’s true. I like knowing what’s going on in every character’s mind. It helps me understand the story. I write this way as well and I know – from the multiple editors that have mentioned it – that it is verbotten in a newbie author. But, this is MY writing voice. My individual style. The way I want to tell a story – much like the way Billie Holiday  tell stories with her songs. The trick to doing the verbotten correctly is to make it seem like it’s not wrong. Only a handful of truly gifted authors do this well. Some day I hope to be included in that lofty group!

Be yourself. In your life and in your writing. That’s my take-away from today’s quote.

Any thoughts?

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Why I write romantic fiction

Those who know me personally already know the answer to this one. Sometimes, though, it’s good to lay it all out so everyone knows the same thing.

For most of my life I’ve loved reading mysteries. As a kid I read Nancy Drew and the Trixie Beldon mysteries like they were sustenance for my starving body. As I got older I discovered Agatha Christie and by the time she died I had read every one of her novels and short stories at least twice. I never really read what was called “love stories” until after I had my daughter. I was browsing through the book store one day, looking for a new author – since most of the ones I liked had died! – and I spotted a Nora Roberts paperback. It was Irish Thoroughbred. I read the back jacket and it seemed like I’d like it, so I took it home and read it. In three hours. I was absolutely hooked by the way she wove a story. The same day I went back to the bookstore and bought the other three titles they had in her name. They were devoured within three days. For the past 25 years I have read everything published by Roberts, including her JDRobb works. By opening my reading world to romantic fiction, Roberts introduced me to a wealth of  other  romance novelists who have made my life so much sweeter and more exciting with their writings.

When I decided I wanted to try and write romance, I sat down and made a list – really! a list – of why I loved reading it so much. These were the highlights:

  • there is usually a happy, relationship-resolved ending. And who doesn’t like a happy ending?
  • the female characters are always independent, smart, many times funny and witty, go-getters, nurture-ers, thoughtful and someone I would like to be friends with.
  • the male leads are usually – but not always – alpha males, successful in almost everything but love ( hence the heroine!), smart, charming, family oriented ( usually) and someone I would like to have in my life. The beta males are pretty hot, too.
  • the secondary characters seem real to me, not walk on’s who come in and then go, usually just to deliver a message, like so many other kinds of novels I’ve read. You never see them again and they serve no purpose in the character’s life except to tell them one piece of info. In romance writing, the secondary characters are real people, just like you’d have in your own life. And they serve real purposes in the main character’s lives.
  • the sex is written from an emotional viewpoint, and not a clinical one. I’ve read enough “popular fiction” where the obligatory sex scene describes a going into b and then c happening. Boring. In romance, we get to hear and witness the character’s emotions, responses, desires and dreams. And a really good author will make you feel like the character’s emotions could be yours as well.
  • the stories told around the romance are fun, sad, exciting, mysterious, thrilling, though provoking and sometimes even just sweet.
  • who, after all, doesn’t love LOVE? Being in love, feeling loved, loving someone else. Even the Bible says “Love one another.”

Those are the main reasons I like reading – and now writing – romantic fiction. I’m sure if you ask ten different romance authors their reasons, you will get ten or more different answers than mine.

Some of my favorite Romance Novelists:

Nora Roberts, Tami Hoag, Julie Garwood, Linda Howard, Lisa Kleypas, Kasey Micheals,

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You write WHAT?!?

For years I never told people my secret. I kept it between myself and my laptop. No one knew, suspected, or had any inkling what I did with my free time. Then one day, quite by accident,  I let it slip. The look I got from the person I told was comical and just this side of insulting.

“You write WHAT?!?” I was asked.

“Romance,” I replied.

“Why would you write that kind of book? You’re happily married and successful.”

I asked what that was supposed to mean and what connection it had to the kind of book I liked to write. The response floored me. “Romance books aren’t very interesting. I mean, the plot is always the same. Nothing new ever happens. They’re not very stimulating.”

Okay, did I say just this side of insulting? 

Romantic fiction has gotten a bum rap for a number of years, yet the sales statistics are staggering. Over 1.5 billion – that’s billion with a capital B – dollars in revenue in 2012. Compare that to its next highest competitor of mystery sales at just over 7 hundred million, and you can safely say romance sells. So why the bad rep? Why do people – professional writers included – feel that romance novels are the second class citizens of fiction?

You can probably get ten different reasons if you ask ten different people, but I’ll tell you the ones I’ve personally been told by friends and acquaintances.

“I don’t like books that have a lot of explicit sex in them.”

“The basic story line is always the same. The ending, predictable.”

“If I’m gonna buy a book,  I want to read about more than just  the two people in  the story.”

“I don’t like mushy writing.”

These are actually things that have been said to me when I asked. I’d like to address them individually.

“I don’t like books that have a lot of explicit sex in them.” This is so stereotypical that I’m pissed off I even have to address it. Romance novels come in all degrees of heat.  Everything from inspirational novels, where the two “love interests” don’t even kiss, to erotica, and everything in between. Some romance novelists are known for their heat level, jacking it up high and then cooling it down, just to fan it again. This is a normal romance roller coaster. The characters don’t hop into the sack on page one ( well, some authors in erotica do that). Their relationship grows in the novel until it reaches a point where the author either lets them act on their sexual attraction, or finds ways to keep them apart – interested – yet apart. It’s not all sesexsex on every page. That would be a boringly clinical book if it were, with nothing vested in the characters. You might as well read a sex manual.

“The basic story line is always the same. The ending predictable.”  Part of this statement has a smidge of truth – the last sentence. Almost all romance novels end the same way – with the heroine and hero discovering that they want to spend the rest of their days together. Marriage is usually the end product, but not always. The first part of the sentence is just flat out wrong. The basic story line of every romance novel is not the same. Sure, you have two main characters whom you’re rooting will fall in love, but how they get there, how they go on that journey, is different from book to book, character to character. Just like every person in real life is unique, every character in a novel is as well. Every person’s journey is unique, just like every character’s is. Nothing in life is predictable and neither are romance novels.

“If I’m gonna buy a book,  I want to read about more than just  the two people in  the story.”  This statement is surely made by a person who does not read romance. Yes, all romance books have two love interests. But just like in real life, there are people surrounding those main characters. Parents, siblings, friends, bosses, enemies and co-workers. Unless your story takes place on a deserted island and the main characters are shipwrecked, you’re gonna have more than two people in the story. Those secondary characters have their own story lines as well, again just like in real life. How they all intersect, intertwine and effect one another is the basis of sound story telling.

“I don’t like mushy writing.” Well, neither do I. Nor do I read it. What I read is dialogue that sounds natural, as if the two people were speaking in my own living room to one another. What I read is a plot that has a beginning, middle and resolution that satisfies me as the reader. I don’t read flowery sentences and purple prose, or any kind of drivel that makes no sense and makes my groan. I read well written, well plotted, superbly spoken works of talented writers. That these books have as their main premise a romance in them is frosting on the cake as far as I’m concerned.

Romance readers know what they want in a good story and romance writers strive to give them that with each and every book they pen. Numbers don’t lie and romance novels are here to stay.

Thank goodness for that.

 

 

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But, what’s your book ABOUT?

I was speaking to an acquaintance the other day and she asked me what I was working on, writing-wise. I told her a new series of contemporary romance books concerning several members of the same family. She floored me when she then asked, “but, what’s it about?”

Really? Didn’t I just say it’s a series of contemporary romance stories about a family? What part didn’t she understand? A series of books? Contemporary Romance? Family members?

Then it hit me.

This chick is not a writer. Of anything. Not letters, not emails, not lists. I don’t think she even writes a check, just pays everything electronically with a swipe of her index finger on her smart phone. And it was me who wasn’t understanding her, not the other way around. If she had been a writer, or even remotely acquainted with some sort of writing, she would have understood the description I gave her. But she wasn’t, so she didn’t. She really did want to know what the book was about – everything from the plot line down to the characters and where it was taking place. To her, that’s what the book was about, not my clinical, yet apt, description.

Sometimes I take  for granted that people know what I’m talking about when they ask me about my writing. In truth, the only people who ever understand completely what you are saying when you discuss writing are actual writers. My non-writing friends do not know, for instance, what ARC’s are. Nor do they understand the difference between line editing copy and galleys. To them, ARC is what Noah sailed on – just spelled incorrectly. Writers know it’s an acronym for Advance Reader Copies of books. Line editing I still think is self explanatory(!)  and galleys are not the area in the bottom of boats where you cook your meals, but the final copy of your book  you need to check for any and all mistakes before it goes to print with those mistakes on the page forever.

I enjoy writing contemporary romances, but I love reading Regencies. I mentioned this to another acquaintance once and she asked, “what’s a regency?” Again, really? Not her fault. Her sum total of reading concerns biographies of celebrities, PEOPLE, and Cosmo. The funny thing is when I explained what a regency romance was and told her some of my favorite authors and titles, she actually became a fan. She asked once if it was possible to turn a regency romance into a contemporary one. Hello! Anyone remember CLUELESS!??

I really do need to have more patience with, and be kinder to, my non-writing friends –  of which all my close close friends are. There are so many times, though, I am  happy that I belong to the NH Romance Writers of America group and the national RWA. It’s so great to be able to talk about my writing with some people who never require detailed explanations of what my book is about! They get it on the first try.

 

 

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When the past becomes the present

Okay, that title is a little obscure. This is the story behind it.

In my thirties, I pretty much made a living doing freelance article writing for newspapers and magazines. That’s how I made cash. I didn’t need to work because my husband’s salary was more than enough and we both wanted our child to have a parent at home, not both of them always working. At the same time I was writing a great deal of fiction – mainly short stories – and had lots of success with awards and publications. I was also harboring a secret: I was writing book length romantic fiction and murder mysteries. I never attempted to get them published. I wrote them simply for my enjoyment when I had a few hours of time to myself. I liked my stories and I didn’t really care if anyone else ever saw them.

Fast forward a few years and I went back into the workforce as a favor. I didn’t have the time to devote to any kind of writing – freelance or fiction – so I let it slide for about 15 years.

A few more years ahead now. One day I was downsized at my job. Not let go,  but my hours were severely cut. My daughter was gone and on her own, my husband was still working full time, and now I found myself with more time for myself than I’d had in a decade. There is only so much house cleaning and working out at the gym that you can do in a given day, so I decided to pull some of my old fiction stories out and reread them.

Here’s the part of the story that’s weird. I don’t even remember writing most of them. There was a four year window where I actually penned 8 full length novels – each  300- 400 pages. During this prolific time I was shuffling my daughter to school, dance class, karate class, etc. I was making entire home cooked meals EVERY NIGHT of the week and my house looked great. And I still managed to spend all that time writing. I had an entire series of books devoted to one family. I started rereading them last year after I was down sized. I couldn’t remember what I’d written so it was like finding a new author and a new set of works to delight in. Some of them were pretty good, I thought. A little dated, because they were written before Iphones and such, but I started reworking them and modernizing them.

Lo and behold, two of them won contests and the editors at two publishing houses asked for complete manuscripts. I’m waiting to hear back from them as I write this.

It’s a funny thing when your past endeavors come forth to the present. I wonder if I’d tried to submit them for publication back then if they would have been accepted.  Or, did I need to write them and then put them away, only to turn to them again at this stage in my life.  I’ll never really know the answer. Suffice it to say, I had a great deal of fun rereading and reworking them. If this leads to publication, so be it. If it doesn’t, I know I’ll still be writing into the next decades of my life.

And who knows: maybe I’ll find something in the future that I’m writing now and will be surprised by all over again.

Like I said: it’s weird.

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Individual Speech Patterns

Did you ever read a scene between two characters and not know who was speaking because they both sounded the same on the page? I have and it’s very disconcerting. Now, you can use speaker attributes,or tags, such as he said, or she asked, to denote who is speaking and this is a fine, tried and true method to delineate who is saying what. But no two people speak the same way, even members in the same family. They may use similar words or expressions, but the way they say the words is different. People are unique. Your characters should be, too.

I have a friend who always thinks before answering a question. There’s never any knee-jerking in any response she gives. And she uses a modicum of words to answer that question. I have another friend who – like me – always knee-jerks, never thinks and speaks in a rapid fire fashion using up more words in the dictionary than most people know the meaning to. If I were to write a dialogue between the two I would never need to write a speaker attribution. You would know who is speaking just by the way I’ve written the dialogue. Your characters should be recognizable as well. If you have done your job correctly, and have laid the foundation throughout the story of how they speak – slow or fast, their tone – loud or soft – and the way they use words, your readers should be able to identify them during a dialogue scene.

Certain frequently used phrases, slang and dialect are all individual tags to indicate who is speaking as well.  Think of this statement: “I don’ know nothin’ ’bout birthin’ no babies!” If you are a Gone With the Wind fan, you recognize this as a sentence from Scarlet’s maid Prissy when Melanie goes into labor. Prissy is a slave. Poor, black and uneducated. If GWTW took place in the Regency period, you might expect the maid to be white, poor and uneducated, and her speech would sound something like this: “Oy dow’t know nuffin ‘bowt birthing babes!” Both sound uneducated. Take the same sentence and write it from Scarlet’s voice and it might sound like this: “But I don’t know anything about delivery babies!” Sounds different, doesn’t it? The well educated lady’s maid in England may  sound like this: “I’m sorry, but I am not acquainted with the necessary knowledge to assist a baby  into the world.” Sounds even more unique.

Where your story takes place, the locale or setting, will give you an indication of how the characters speak as well. The common ones are Y’all for the south, Mate for our neighbors to the north and Australia, Eh? for the upper midsection of the country, bloody and brilliant for our English friends. You can come up with many more individual phrases and words used in various sections of our world. If you have a Brit in your book, make him say common Brit phrases, and then try to have the Americans tell him the way they say the same word. That would surely denote who is speaking from who.

I am nosey. I’ve said this too any times now to try and deny it if asked. In my nosiness states I listen to how strangers speak. In a restaurant, at the mall, on airplanes. I enjoy hearing people talk because it is all fodder for my imagination and story telling. The next time you are somewhere pubic, listen to a few people have a dialogue. Note the speed – or lack of it – in the way they talk, the words they use – many or sparse – and any geographical dialect sounding words they say. See if you can translate that to whatever story you are currently working on. Write a couple of pages of dialogue without speaker attributes and have someone read it. Someone your trust and like. See if they can follow who is speaking without the tags. If they can, you have done a great job. If they can’t, figure out why not and how you can fix it. And I’ll bet you can fix it by doing any of the ways I’ve mentioned.

 

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How do you turn your characters into Real People, Part 2

Part of my website is called Tawk 2 Me. The word Tawk we all know should be spelled as Talk. The reason it isn’t here is because of my Brooklyn accent. I haven’t lived in New York in over 30 years, nor in Brooklyn for close to 42 . But I still speak as if I just got off the local Flatbush train. I don’t pronounce “R’s” at the end of works, substituting  “A’s” for them and my nasal, drifting cadence tells you immediately when you meet me that I am a Brooklyn girl. On the occasions when I go back to NY for a day or so, the accent reverts to a primordial twang and it grows even thicka ( thicker!) See: I even do it when I write!

Long before there was callerID people knew it was me on the other end of the phone the moment I said, “h’llo.”

This is a long winded way of saying one of the best ways to make your characters seem like real people is through:

  • dialogue
  • word choice
  • pronunciation

Where are these two people from?:

Guy 1 “Yo.”

Guy 2 “Yo”

Guy 1 “Where you been at?”

Guy2 “My ol’lady. Been busy. Bangin’ all day.”

Guy 1 “Go scratch.”

Guy 2 “True.”

Okay, I could go on with these two goons, but I think you get the idea from the dialogue, that these are two are not exactly Rhodes Scholars speaking about esoteric world events. They actually sound like guys I grew up with, so if you said they live in NYC or Brooklyn to be specific, you would be correct.

So here’s the same dialogue from a different part of the country:

Guy 1. “Hey.”

Guy 2. “Hey, back.”

Guy 1 “Where y’all been?”

Guy 2 “With my girl. We’ve been getting busy b’tween the sheets, know what I’m sayin’?”

Guy1 “No way, bro”

Guy 2 “Way.”

See the difference? Same speech, different words. They sound different and read differently. When I see this I immediately think midwest – south because of the “y’all.” I can hear the twang and drawl.

Word choice and word placement are two ways to make your character sound real and read as real.

When you read  a Regency romance you will never hear a character say a line like this: “Yo, bitch, what time we gotta be there? ” Instead, the line would probably read like this: “My dear, what time are we expected to arrive?” Same meaning, different time period and word choice.

Dialogue is a powerful way to present your characters.  Here’s a great little tool to use when plotting ( sorry, pantsers) your storyboarding and your characters. Check out the language and communication page: CHARACTER CHART.

Part three is next. I love this topic because I love my characters and the people they are!

 

 

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How do you turn your characters into Real PEOPLE?

This sounds like a really dumb question, but consider this: think about the last book you began to read and then put down because you couldn’t get into it, couldn’t relate to the plot or the characters. If it was the characters, I would bet it was because they didn’t come across as believable. Or normal, if you will. They might have been caricatures, the kind of characters that are written as  overblown personalities: too dramatic, too boring, just not real people. Think of caricature drawings. They hint at looking like the real person, but in reality they are distortions. No reader will invest in  characters who are not fully developed on the page or who are so over written as to not be believable. And I don’t mean just the descriptions of blue eyed, brown haired, endomorph, long legged. What I’m referring to are characters who are really shells. No substance underneath. I heard this description of a character once and it fits perfectly here: she’s like an expensive car without an engine; beautiful on the  outside, but  hollow. Nice to look at, but that’s all.

So how do you make your characters into believable beings?

One way for me is to show consistency. If you say someone has been afflicted by nerves their entire life, show them being nervous, even at the slightest thing. Show them acting and reacting to events that take place in your story. Someone who has a morbid fear of snakes is not going to run into the herpetology exhibit at the zoo with anticipation and glee on their face. That’s just not believable with what we’ve been told about the character. If I tell you my hero is a brave warrior, and then show him running away from a cat, well, that just doesn’t fit. His reactions don’t match his description. Consistency in thoughts and actions is a key factor toward developing believable characters.

Now if the person suffering from Ophidiophobia  is placed in a situation where she has to save a loved one from – you got it – snakes, then you have to at least hint at the fact that this person would do anything for a loved one, be it  run into a burning building to save them, or jump into a snake den to pull the loved one to safety, despite their phobia. Consistency works in thoughts AND deeds.

We all have fears, foibles, and character traits that make us unique. No one – NO ONE – is perfect. If you write a character that has no flaws – even slight ones – the reader will probably be turned off. I know: who doesn’t want a perfect guy, right? But let’s face it, perfection is not all it’s cracked up to be.  A little temper, a little selfishness when used correctly, a little messiness – you figure it out – all makes the character seem more like a real person and not just someone you put on a page and have things happen to. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t have a little sumthin’ sumthin’ that doesn’t need improving or commenting on. This one is tightfisted and has the first penny ever earned. This one claims to care nothing about looks, but will only date guys she considers a 9 or 10. I can be shallow, I know, but it’s true. Think of your friends, loved ones, and even people you don’t like. I can guarantee there’s something you’d like to change or fix about them. Use that trait in one of your characters and don’t fix it! Believe me, it’s fun to do.

This is a very near and dear topic to me so I’ll be spending a few blogs on it.

Until next time, though, re-evaluate your character(s). Look for  flaws and if he doesn’t have any – give him some. Make sure whatever you write is consistent throughout the work, too. And if it’s not, make sure you foreshadow, or hint, that this is the reason why it’s not.

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Are your characters motivated?

We all know that fiction is propelled by conflict. Two people  who just sit on the page enamored with one another is a very boring story that no one will read. Throw in a little conflict and it makes the story move forward. The same can  be said for motivation. What makes your characters do what they do? What end game are they interested in? What’s the goal? What lead them to this thinking?

In a phrase: what motivates them?

My favorite adult fiction book of all time is Gone With the Wind I know: it’s dated, hard to read in some parts because of the way the dialect is written, and sometimes you just want to slap Scarlet O’Hara like she slapped poor Prissy.  Scarlet is a conniving, lying, spoiled  vixen of a woman. But you want to root for her because everything she does, everything she becomes, is motivated by two central truths in her life- she loves Ashley Wilkes and she loves Tara. She will do whatever she has to in order to accomplish her goal of having both. And she does. Her motivation is to prove to Ashley that he really loves her and not  Melly. When the war destroys her family and her home, she is motivated beyond reason to help Tara rise again to the splendor it was pre-war. She marries men she does not love for their money and for the security they bring to her. She cares for Melly when she is sick and dying only because she wants to be close to Ashley. She really is a bitch in every sense of the word, but still, you root for her because she fights for what she wants, and to hell with everyone and everything else.

That’s motivation in it’s sincerest form.

What motivates your characters? Is it a desire to save the family homestead despite not having the visible means to do it? Is it revenge on the person  your character thinks did them wrong? Is it greed? Lust? Love? Whatever your characters want you need to be clear about it, because the reader wants what they want FOR them, and wants to see them overcome obstacles to get it.

There’s no motivation in a boy meets girl-boy gets girl story. Now, a boy meets girl-boys loses girl- boy gets girl in the end story is the stuff of romantic dreams. This is what romance readers want. They want to know what motivates the two characters to fall in love. What obstacles must they overcome to wind up together? Are their motivations at cross purposes and it looks like they’ll never make it? All this drives the story and what drives the character is their motivation.

What motivation do you give your characters? Is it strong enough to sustain an entire novel about it? If not, how could you make it stronger? Sit back and re-evaluate what you want for you characters and what they want. It should be the same thing. Your goal is deciding how to effectively help them attain that goal without losing sight of their motivation.

 

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