One of the big things I struggle with when starting a story is likeability. The general premise is that a reader needs to be able to connect with a character, that the character should have redeemable qualities so that the reader can like him or her.

I have two issues with this. First of all, I’ve written nice alphas and I’ve written jerky alphas–no one cares. These guys don’t have to be likable. They need to be heroic. They can be jerks and still live by their own code of ethics. I have zero problems pulling this off, but it bugs that heroes are given so much more latitude than heroines.

Second, I have a hard time making likable heroines. I’ve written everything from the wilting flower (who everyone loved, right off the bat–not my typical heroine) to, shall we say, more abrasive heroines (these are the ones I usually start out with). I prefer to think of them as complex.

Because, here’s the thing. My characters are not happy when the story starts. Their lives are usually in shambles or, they think they have everything under control, but it’s all just a house of cards waiting to fall. And people with difficult lives are not happy, likable people.

It really annoys me that I have to try to make my heroine conform to being “likable” in order for her to be identifiable. Um, look… I’m a likable person. But sometimes, I’m a wreck. Sometimes, I’m a handful. And, you know what? I think more people can identify with me than can not.

Starting right now, I’m going to fight this stereotype–that women only like to read about sweet, light, giving creatures. The Snow White, whistling while she works as birds light upon her finger. I never even liked Snow White. Or Cinderella. They were both basically doormats for their antagonists. Why would I want to write that?

Please, give me your opinion on heroines at the beginning of a story. What do you love and hate to see? Call it research, because I really need to know.

Once I do a first draft I, naturally, put the story away for a number of weeks to allow it to grow unfamiliar and, thus, fresh in my brain when I reread it. Then, I read it, taking notes on big picture problems. My last project, I ended up with sixty-five different notes and the list was about six pages long.

I’m preparing to go in this week and begin what I think of as deep revision. It’s a lot of editing, some rewriting, and a little adding whole new scenes. I’ll come out the other side with a new story on my hands; a deeper, more complete, richer story.

I wanted to give an example of what deep revision can do. I once wrote a post about the important elements of a sex scene. In it, I wrote:

Could you make the scene stronger by making them emotionally naked as opposed to physically naked?

If you go back to that previous post, you’ll see I included a first draft sex scene, but then ended up taking it out and replacing it with one that did just that (I’ll include a sample of it at the end; it’s from my book Infamous). Here’s why:

What I ended up replacing this scene with is one of connection, but the emotional sort. I finally realized that it’s too easy for my hero to make a sexual connection, but he never makes emotional connections. He pushed himself out of his comfort zone, he took a tiny step toward change. And she distinguished herself, in yet another way, as different from any other woman.

The reasons I made the change are described above, but it was also to increase the tension between these two characters, provide a richer understanding of their characters, and improve my story’s pacing.

Deep Revision can increase tension, characterization, and pacing--just for starters. Click To Tweet

For comparison purposes, I’m going to include a sample of that new scene below the signature. You can read it in its original form in the post about sex scenes. (It would make this post unnecessarily long to include both here.) I loved the new scene so much, it’s the main sample I used for marketing purposes. That is why deep revision is so important.

A sample from Infamous:

“Crap, now you’re going to be sweet? Now?” She tangled her fingers through the hair that covered her face and pushed it away. Next thing he knew, she’d wrapped her arms around his waist.

“Justine? Um… what are you doing?”

“I’m hugging you. Taking emotional comfort.”

“Like a leech.”

“Haven’t you ever hugged before?”

“I’ve never hugged anyone I wasn’t going to have sex with.”

“We’re not having sex.” She squeezed him tighter and rested her head on his shoulder. “Hug me back.”

Sawyer lifted his arms and wrapped them around her, his hands cupping her shoulders, pulling her closer. He dropped his head to rest on hers, and parts of him, so deep he couldn’t name them, pulled free and demanded his attention. Her hair smelled like fruit, the kind kids eat in the summer, juice dripping down their chins. “I’m fine with the hugging, but, just saying, I’m not responsible for any physical reaction hugging may induce.”

“Okay.” The word drifted out of her on a sigh.

He wasn’t equipped for this. There hadn’t been a lot of touching growing up, at least not the kind that didn’t end in a busted lip or a cracked rib. As an adult, there’d been lots of touching. But, not like this. The tighter he held her, the closer he wanted to be.

After a couple of minutes, he couldn’t take anymore. It seemed bigger than him, bigger and growing fast. He pulled back to look at her, hands still gripping her shoulders. “You look tired.”

“I haven’t slept since…” She tilted her head back, thinking. “I don’t remember. Couple of days.”

“So get some sleep.”

“I don’t know if I can.” She settled on the edge of the bed and looked down at her hands. “I have so many things running through my head right now.”

“I know what to do.” He slipped off the denim jacket he’d been wearing since some time last night. “Go find the least attractive thing you sleep in.”

She raised an eyebrow at him. “Why?”

“Because I said so. And because you need some sleep. You’ve got bags under your eyes big enough to hold your whole wardrobe.”

She lifted the lid of her luggage to pick through her clothes, grabbed something white she balled up in her hands, and dutifully went into the bathroom to change.

Sawyer looked at the closed door and then turned to the bed. He turned down the covers on one side and turned out the lights, except for the lamp beside the bed.

When she came out and flipped the bathroom light off behind her, Sawyer wanted to tell her to try again. Her choice was anything but unattractive. She’d slipped into a gown that settled halfway between her knees and…well, places he had no business concerning himself with. The gown flounced around her, touching her nowhere except under the arms and across her chest with a black ribbon gathering the material.

She lifted one foot and slid it behind the other. “Poppies.”

He dragged his gaze to her face. “What?”

“The flowers on the gown are poppies. They make you drowsy.” She slid her gaze to the side. “I found that amusing when I bought it.”

He held up his hands. “It’s fine. Get in the bed.”

“I don’t do pajamas. I have a thing against sleeping in pants. I like the way the sheets feel, cool and slippery, on my legs.” She looked past him to a corner of the room. “I talk a lot when I’m uncomfortable.”

“It’s fine.” He shifted toward the bed and then paused as her words sunk in. “Wait, you have panties on, though, right?”

“Of course.”

He tilted his head to glance at her with a frown, trying not to look at her bare legs. “Are they hot?”

“Doesn’t matter.”

“Right, no. Doesn’t matter. Lay down.” She stopped beside him at the foot of the bed and they stared at the down-turned blankets. “I want to make sure you get some sleep. You get under the covers, and I’ll lie on top so I don’t invade your not-pants-wearing space.”

“You’re volunteering to give me emotional comfort.”

“Shut up, Justine.”

She hopped into bed, twisting to pull the covers to the top of her shoulders, and lay on her side. He climbed on top of the blanket, scooted close. “Do people send you designer nightgowns, too?”

“Trying to sleep here.”

Her body moved in the rhythm of breath, slowed down, as her muscles softened and relaxed. He wanted to kiss her shoulder, to press his lips against it, to find out if it was as soft as it looked. And what was that scent? Her hair fanned across her pillow and it smelled like… watermelon? Strawberries? Apples?

She interrupted his fruity thoughts, her voice soft and blurry. “Thank you.”

“I’m an ass.”

“You’re okay right now, though.”

“I’m using you, right now, because I like how you smell. I’m an ass.”

She didn’t speak again, and he realized she was out. He should get up. Go to his own room. Get away from the bare legs, under the covers, and the shoulder, and the hair. Try to put whatever had awoken during that hug back to rest. In a minute, he’d get his jacket and go.

Notice a whole bunch of Benedict Cumberbatch to the right.

Added WIP board from Pinterest. I get inspired every time I see him. So. Much. Yum. Right?

My Pinterest Board for the story set in the 1950s that I don’t even know who would possibly publish such a thing

We are finally at the end of what heroes and heroines do and don’t do for love. Because that title was such a mouthful, I broke it up into 4 segments. Again, I welcome all comments and thoughts below. Without further ado:

Five things your heroine should never do because she’s in love and that makes everything okay (because it, in fact, does not):

1. String two guys along. Not speaking of menage stories here. I’m saying a heroine does not spend the entire story unclear on whether she loves the hero enough to cut loose her backup guy. I don’t like women who do this in real life, I don’t respect them. I will not respect a heroine who pulls this trashy crap.

2. Run away. I know, I know this one happens all the time. I’ve read them. And enjoyed them. But… it’s not entirely satisfying. Yes, he chases her down and she knows he really cares. But… what did she put on the line? She’s gone. It’s all on him to solve the black moment. What’s going to happen the first time they hit the next crisis in their relationship? Because happily ever after doesn’t mean easy ever after. It means this couple has proven they will stick it out and make their relationship work.

I have to clarify, though, that this isn’t the same as the heroine offering him her sacrifice and giving him the choice, then going so that he can make his decision. On the other hand, I’ve also read books where the heroine arced and ran away for no other reason than that it was time for a black moment. If that’s the big crisis they need to solve, there’s no motivation for her to run–it’s not really a crisis. Your story already ended and you forgot to write it that way.

3. Stalk him. Caveat: Stalk him in a way that doesn’t involve an external plot detail. For example, if she’s a detective hired to follow him around, then that’s not stalking. She’s doing her job. If she’s sneaking around to see what he’s up to because she’s a jealous psychobeast or she doesn’t trust him–there’s not a happy ending in their future.

4. Belittle him. Remember, I’m describing actions after the two have come to care for one another, whether they admit it or not. She doesn’t have to realize she likes him yet, she doesn’t have to stop with the witty banter. But she does have to not be cruel, demeaning, or humiliating in the way she speaks to him.

People have arguments, you say. Might these things not slip out? I suppose they might. But she’ll feel bad for it. And when we truly feel remorseful, we make sure not to repeat the mistake. You’re supposed to be writing a character who is growing, who is learning from her mistakes. This is a mistake.

5. Trade sex/her body for anything. I don’t care if it’s the house her grandmother grew up in. I don’t care if it’s the last jelly doughnut. Don’t do it! Don’t send the message that the heroine’s only worth, especially to the love of her life, is her body. It’s demeaning and sad. Do you think it’ll crank up sexual tension? Yeah, someone having sex they don’t want to have because it’s a trade-off for what they need, because that’s the only shred of power they have left, is not at all sexy.

Sure, it happened in Pretty Woman (a romantic comedy). But, the writer made a distinction between the sex she was paid to have and the sex she wanted to have (with the kiss). Not to mention that she spent the entire movie fighting against everyone’s belief that she held no worth because she traded sex for money. And, come on. You know and I know, that was prettied up for a story. Sex workers don’t do that job because it has perks. They do it, often, because life or bad choices have led them to a place of desperation and, more often than not, a man takes away their choice. I could rant all day on this. But, I won’t. Just don’t do it.

But writers break these rules all the time!

That’s because they’re not rules. First of all, I made them up and who am I to give anyone rules? Second, like most of writing’s rules, they can be broken with wonderful results. But you better be good. And I don’t mean talented. You don’t send the fella who is a genius at filleting fish to the hospital to remove a brain tumor. Talent does not equal skill. Skill is acquired through learning and practice. So, you’d better be good skilled.

And you don’t break any rule because it makes the story easier to write or it puts this character where you need them to be. There are only three reasons to break a rule: character, character, character. Yeah, I lied. There’s only one reason. Because your character is well-motivated, fleshed out, and it serves their story. Good writing never serves the writer.

And this concludes my whackadoo ideas series of blog posts on how heroes and heroines should and should not show love. Next week, my fantabulously brilliant daughter will be guest blogging (unless she stands me up) about stories in video games. I’m excited.

“Lady love gone bad in romance | The Black Moment is a Restraining Order P2” ~ Click to Tweet

“Five things your heroine should never do in romance” ~ Click to Tweet

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–Credit for suggestions 1,2, and 3 go to my critique partner, Landra Graf (Twitter, Site). She thinks way faster than I do, apparently. Because, while I was coming up with 4 and 5, she was rattling them off.

Photo used with permission from stock.xchng. Photo by: Przemyslaw ‘env1ro’ Szczepanski.

Last week, I added a parenthetical remark to my list of things a heroine should do. That aside sparked the idea for this post. I’m limiting myself to ten randomly chosen ideas (broken into two weeks–my words go on and on!), but there are probably a million more. Please  add yours in the comments.

Five things your hero should never do because he cares (in no particular order)

1. Beat her. I would have believed this self-explanatory as well as perhaps negated by the-hero-is-flawed-but-always-acts-heroically rule. I was wrong. Sophia Martin (Twitter, Site) shared a story she remembered in which “the hero BEAT the heroine for a transgression AND SHE FORGAVE HIM.” Then, she (the heroine) found herself charmed by a promise to beat their children and send them to her for comfort.

Heroes never assault women. Any women, but especially the heroine.

2. Cheat on her. Nothing says, “I couldn’t care less about your feelings,” like cheating. I’m not talking glittery hoo-ha here. There’s a line where the couple starts the you’re-my-potential-mate dance. Heroes don’t step outside that line.

I might, and that’s a doubtful might, forgive a hero who cheated in the past. But a hero, in the story of loving the heroine, who has sex with someone else after they’ve kissed, declared their intentions, or become intimate? No. Just no.

3. Dump her because he has trust issues. And is a stupid ass-hat. This, and the one above, were shared by Carinae L’etoile (Twitter, Site). She read a book where the heroine has a twin. That she doesn’t know about. Who stars in porn. See the big misunderstanding coming?

Hero sees new, unknown twin in porn (how did he explain that?) and, according to Carinae, “viciously kicks the heroine to the curb.”

What?? So, heroes with trust issues? That’s fine, if it’s fear of the future or of being hurt. The fear that his heroine is a big whore? That’s abusive, not heroic.

4. Manipulate her. I’ve read lots of books where the hero or heroine try to make the other jealous. And I’ve enjoyed them despite the fact that this is a form of emotional manipulation.

In real life, as it should be in romance writing, it’s never okay to act in a non-genuine way to force an emotional response.

All I can say is that there’s a line. As a subplot, intended as a comedy, or maybe even as a flaw the character arcs from, you can pull it off. But, be aware, that’s a fine line. Go over it, and he becomes an emotionally abusive asshole.

5, Dismiss her. Does he misjudge her at the beginning? Fine. He doesn’t even know her and maybe he has really valid reasons to dislike her.

But once he beings to care for her, once she shows vulnerability, then don’t treat her like she’s not smart, or capable, or enough.

Do you know how many women have felt this way? Pretty much all of us. I know I don’t want to identify with a heroine because the future/current love of her life makes her feel that way. That drives me right into wallbanger territory.

Disclaimer: I’m sure these have all been done. Some of them even successfully. I’m not criticizing anyone or calling anybody out. It’s just… my blog, my opinion. But, I’d love to hear yours! Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments.

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“The Black Moment is a Restraining Order – P1.” ~ Click to Tweet

“Five Things Your Hero Should *Never* Do ‘Because He Cares'” ~ Click to Tweet

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Photo used with permission from stock.xchng. Photo by: Przemyslaw ‘env1ro’ Szczepanski.

Last week, I went into ways to show your hero’s feelings for the heroine, despite engaging in conflict. A lot. This week, I’m flipping things around.

Ways to show your heroine cares, even though the hero is the most arrogant/insufferable/stubborn man she’s ever met.

1. Men have a tendency to get caught up in themselves, in this persona they’re showing to the world–macho, manwhore, major asshole. Whatever. The heroine doesn’t take him too seriously.

She knows he’s strong and virile–and he’s a big baby when he’s sick. Maybe he has been spreading his love all over town–but she doesn’t sweat the girls who came before her. Okay, maybe a little. Who wouldn’t, a little? But, she knows he wants her. Insecurity? Please. And that alpha who can make people cry with a withering stare? She’ll step up and give it right back to him. He doesn’t intimidate her.

She calls him on his BS because she sees right through it.

2. Life has knocked her down, in some fashion, like it does all of us. Maybe she had a rough childhood, maybe she was deserted, left holding all the responsibility, by another man. Maybe she’s just been a doormat her whole life and needs to grow as a character enough to stand up for herself. It doesn’t matter how she learned it, she knows that most people let you down. But there’s something about this guy. A thousand things scream to her, he’s a good man. And even though part of her tells her she’s crazy to believe it… she does.

She trusts him, even though a lifetime of experiences have taught her that people suck.

3. When he screws up (and I don’t mean by being unfaithful), when his back is against the wall, when the whole worlds hangs in the balance–she doesn’t wait at home and hope he can put everything right again. She’ll be right by his side, standing up for him or wielding a gun and shooting it out with the bad guys. It’s not about him needing her help–though he does, we all need help when we reach our biggest crises–it’s that she wouldn’t dream of letting him face it alone.

She will always stand by her man.

Again, I’d love to hear ways that struck you that a heroine showed her true feelings or even examples from your own stories.

Got ideas on all the wrong ways characters show their true feelings?

Next week, I’ll be writing a post about absolutely messed-up ways to have your characters show that they care. If you care to contribute your ideas, please email me, tweet me, or PM me on my Author page. You can find all of those links on my contact page. I promise to give full credit next to your ideas!

“Show a heroine’s feelings for her hero–no telling required!” ~ Click to Tweet

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Photo used with permission from stock.xchng. Photo by: Viktors Kozers.

Yesterday my husband shared this photo with me. My man, he’s not a showy, affectionate guy. So, this was particularly sweet to know that he thinks about the ways we love each other. And, it’s a truthful depiction of us, really.

But then, I started thinking about romance and how we have our characters show their feelings for one another, particularly our hero, when they’re in all this conflict.

Ways to show your hero cares, even when he kind of wants to throttle your heroine (even though he’d never do that because he’s a hero. And he loves her.)

1. He can’t help himself from taking care of her. And I don’t mean in the old-fashioned way, that she can’t take care of herself. She absolutely can take care of herself. Maybe she’s this super independent woman. She’s educated, she’s successful, she can change her own flat tires. But she has this silly fear of spiders. And she can call an exterminator. Of course, she can do that. It’s just, there’s one in her bedroom, right now. And she can’t go back in there. She maybe can’t even stay in her home, knowing that ginormous, mastermind spider is just waiting, biding it’s time, to catch her off guard and spring at her. So, he spends an hour searching for the pesky arachnid before ultimately finding it and killing it with one of her sandals.

Because time + effort = love. This will always be true.

2. He can complain about her all. day. long. He has a million reasons why she’s a crazy-making, devil of a woman. But nobody else can say a bad thing about her. Or he will all up in their business.

This is our modern day version of defending her honor. And heroes will always do that, from knights to astronauts. To vamps or weredragons, come to think of it.

3. He sees things in her that others don’t. Maybe that she doesn’t even see in herself. Take my super independent chick from above. Everyone else thinks she cold-hearted, calculating even (because, hey, that’s what our society thinks of women like that–but that’s another post). But he sees that she has a soft side. Maybe he recognizes it in the way she take time to comfort a person because she can relate to them. Maybe, instead of kicking someone when they’re down and climbing on top of their unconscious body to plant a conquering flag in their backside, she offers to help.

We have to give our heroines some traits that people can identify with. That’s key, and it’s also another post. But he sees those traits in her when everyone else writes them off or doesn’t even bother to notice.

Heroes recognize their heroines. They get who they are and they respect them for it.

Can you think of other ways for a hero to show his growing feelings for a heroine? I’d love to hear from you in the comments. If you’re a writer, feel free to include examples from your own stories.

“How do we write our heroes to show their feelings, in spite of conflict?” ~ Click to Tweet

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I could not find the creator of the lovely image above. I looked. I’d buy a print of it, if I could find it and gladly give credit / remove it, as they wish. If you know who owns this image, please let me know.

I’m not going to advocate Gossip Girl as anything more than mindless fun. Except…

It’s the characters.

I began watching Gossip Girl The weekend of July 13th. It’s eighteen days later and, despite working full time, writing, critting in a couple of marathon sessions for my CP, and just generally rearing children, I have managed to watch nearly five full seasons

This show has flaws:

  • Writing that often serves the needs of the plot rather than the organic growth of the characters.
  • Reversals in feelings and character consistency are another, but those happen more in characters that are, quite frankly, rather flaky.
  • Characters whose moral compass sometimes spins wildly with disastrous results.

And all that makes it soapy fun, which, as I’ve established, I’m totally fine with.

But, at the end of my four or five episodes day, I care about the characters. Some I like. Some I love like damn and whoa.

Blair & Chuck

Oh, what a wreck these two are. I’m not sure they deserve anyone or any amount of happiness. They’re so incredibly flawed, but that’s the easy part. They could’ve quickly been written off as one-dimensional villains. But, no. They’re redeemable. I understand what motivates them.

They have pleasures in life that anyone can identify with, like Blair’s passion for old movies and Chuck, a man who received about as much nurturing as a kitten whose mother tried to eat it, who is quietly devoted to his dog.

But, I didn’t truly become enamored with these characters until they fell in love with one another. And, here, with these on-the-surface terrible people I saw a thoughtfully written, consuming, passionate affair for the ages play out. This is the real thing. This is that magic something, lightning in a bottle, that writers hope to capture.

Even when a show isn’t brilliant, we can still learn from what works. ~ Click to Tweet

One of THE best writing articles I’ve ever read:

Simply put, in every social interaction, one person has (or attempts to have) more of a dominant role. Those in authority or those who want to exert authority use a collection of verbal and nonverbal cues to gain and maintain higher status. But it’s not just authority figures who do this. In daily life all of us are constantly adjusting and negotiating the amount of status we portray as we face different situations and interact with different people.

Novelists have the daunting task of showing this dynamic of shifting submission and dominance through dialogue, posture, pauses, communication patterns, body language, action and inner dialogue.

How to Raise Your Characters Above the Status Quo |

Just… go read it. Print it out. Tape it to your wall.  It’s that good.

Before, I showed you how I created Sam’s GMC from his biography; let me give you an idea of how to use GMC once you have it:

So, that’s my actual wall.  Those are two of the seven GMC charts I have hung there.  My two main protagonists, actually.  On the top left, you’ll see an extra note: the lesson they need to learn by the end of the story.  In this novel, my antagonist and her minion don’t have these.  Because they fail to learn a lesson; they’re villains.  Not all antagonists are villains, though.  In some stories, an antagonist could be a friend or family member or even lover.  In order to for the antagonist have a happy ending, they need to arc as well.

This is hard, hard, hard until it’s not hard.  And then you have it, for this manuscript, anyway, and everything makes sense. Buy the book. Do some research.  If you’ve already written a story, do your GMC.

I by no  means claim expertness on this subject; but I know what works for me and how I use it. I would be happy to answer any question directed to me about my process in the comments or on Twitter.

Character Development Series

Turns out, I had so much to say about developing characters, I wrote a series of posts. Here they are, in order:
Develop Characters Without Worksheets
Writing Free Form Character Biographies
How to Find a Character’s GMC?
My GMC “In the Wild”
Plotting and Motivation