Up Hill, Both Ways.

Remember when your grandparents (or possibly parents) complained about when they were kids, they had to trudge 5 miles through the waist high snow to get to school and back, “up hill, both ways”? Sometimes, that’s how it feels, writing a series.

Like you, I assumed it would get easier as I went along, but that has not proven to be the case. It’s harder.

Every book introduces new characters that help to drive the plot of that particular book. Those characters need descriptions and back stories, and depending on how their roles evolve, they may or may not come back in a later book. That’s work.

The core characters each evolve differently with extraneous factors that round out the series itself. Simultaneously, they are also driving the present book plot with the above introduced characters. That’s more work.

A character driven story still has to be a story. There still has to be a central theme, and in my book there are sub plots that act as catalysts for that theme and literally drive the point home. What’s the point? What are the motivations? Why is the story taking the reader down these paths, and how do they come together? Yep, more work.

Because I chose to write a character driven romantic suspense series, there is a lot of research required to make Dairyland Murder’s universe believable to the reader. There’s history, geography, language, forensics, culture studies, current events, technology, civics, even a little botany now and then. I like to think my books are short but dense with information presented in a way that is entertaining but still makes the reader think.

So, while I enjoy writing the books, and I feel validated knowing that I have fans who really enjoy reading them, I still have to make myself sit down and bring it all together. Metaphorically speaking, I appreciate the privilege of going to school, but it’s still five miles through the waist high snow. And it’s still up hill, both ways.

 

Bringin’ on the Heart Ache

We’ve all felt the pain of a break-up with a significant other. No one is immune to it. That hopeless ache of loss knows no prejudice. And if you are writing about that loss in a novel, it’s very important to communicate that feeling to the reader.

In the last post I wrote about villains. In a story that centers around relationships, antagonists aren’t always villains. They lie in more of a gray area. They certainly muck up a plot like a proper villain does, but their roll is more to do with reenforcing the battles that rage in the hero or heroine’s heads. They may be doing nothing other than existing in the hero’s life, and that in itself is the catalyst for struggle.

Bernice and Evan handle breakups in completely different ways because they treat their love interests in completely different ways.

Bernice is a drastic bridge burner, so to speak. Her relationships with men tend to run hot and short. Because of this, when she runs into them again, it is usually an awkward experience. Bernice is very choosy, however, with whom she shares her feelings with, rather than just her bed. Her trust in the reliability of men is intrinsically stingy, so when she does extend that trust and it is broken, she is utterly defeated and sulks away to bury herself in depression and work.

Evan, in contrast, is stoic yet romantic. He rarely allows himself the privilege of a sexual relationship, but when he does, it’s for keeps. Because his relationships become epic and all encompasing, the break ups are so devastating, he represses his feelings altogether. He simply deflects the situation from his  life and moves on. Whether or not his coping mechanism is any more or less emotionally healthy than Bernice’s is up the reader to decide.

The thing they both have in common is neither is good at closure. Leaving relationships behind as open ended question marks may not be a wise idea in real life, but in a book, they become literary devises that can really round out main characters and punch up the dramatic factor in a love story.

That being said, bring on the heart ache. It hurts so good (my apologies for bastardizing not one but two 1980′s rock song titles; entertaining, but lame).

“You’re Dispicaple!”

Every story has a hero and a villain. Every one. I am of the opinion that our big human brains demand a sort of moral test with a sense of reasonable justice involved in order to be able to give a damn about what we are reading. That battle fills an emotional need in all of us.

It can be a biography about a soldier battling PTSD. The disease is the enemy. It can be chick-lit about an overweight bookstore owner who is distrustful of the hunky writer whose making romantic advances. The villain is her self doubt. Distopian, young adult series? The enemy is the state.

Usually in suspense, the villain isn’t so obvious. That’s part of the fun of reading suspense, and what’s really fun for me as a writer. Who’s really the bad guy? What are his or her actual motivations? Which characters are playing in the gray areas of moral ambiguity? Do the ends justify the means?

I don’t always have the answer to those questions when I create the villains. It’s up to the reader to decide. I might attempt to be persuasive; dangle that “greater good” carrot out there and see if they bite. It makes for great debate, and moral dilemmas force the reader to do a little self reflection. “What would I do, given these options?”

“Bad” people do bad things. And what those bad things are has to change with each story. If a villain is continuous in a series, the writer has to decide whether or not that person will stay “bad” in the same way, or if their MO will change as their story progresses. If a villain only stays in one story, their motivation is usually more pronounced, and that can actually help the writer maintain focus.

I am about one third of the way into the actual writing of Book 5, Blonde in the Backwater (copyright 2013), and so far the primary villain has only been introduced through a phone call. Minor villains and henchmen have made their truncated appearances, but so far the evil puppet master is still waiting in the wings. Who he (or she) is will still take some time for the heroes to sort out. The reader might get a heads up just to witness the heroes struggle as they need to.

Since this is also a romantic series, there are the villains that disrupt Evan and Bernice’s happiness as well. Will their pure and undying love survive? Or will they give into distractions, complacency and unresolved feelings?

The hero must always struggle more than the villain. The fight has to be hard won, or the reader will not feel vindicated. They need to have a reason to root for their heroes. And they need to believe that justice still prevails, and that true love still conquers all.

The more despicable the villain, the harder the fight, but the more gratifying the outcome. Just keep in mind, there is a price for the hero to pay when he or she wins. A series is not just one battle. It’s a war. And I’m not ready to sign the treaty yet. Muhaha.