The Conference was amazing, it was good to see everyone, and I don't think the choice of talks could be bettered. There is always so much to learn - my head is still spinning! Here is a brief 500 word summary of just one of the talks...
Jessica Hart: Nobody Mention the F-word!
Jessica Hart has written 53 novels for Mills & Boon. In her talk she explored how to develop narrative drive in a romance.
A romance story is about unresolved emotional tension. It’s about ‘why two people who are powerfully attracted to each other not only won’t acknowledge the fact that they love each other, but feel that they can’t.’
Emotional tension comes from the reader:
a) understanding why the H & H believe their relationship won’t work
b) understanding they are perfect for each other
c) wondering how they will resolve their problems.
Jessica knows that many romance writers ‘loathe the notion of a formula’. While agreeing that romance is not written to formula, she believes it is vital a writer understands how a romance is structured. It is the structure that carries the emotional tension. Jessica has devised a formula for this:
Situation (External) X Plot = Emotional Tension
To take these elements in turn:
Situation: This is the external set of circumstances driving the H & H together. A child has to be looked after, a debt has to be paid etc. Give your characters balanced motivations for staying together, eg the baby belongs to the hero’s brother and she is desperate for money etc.
Character: What makes your H & H the kind of people they are? Why do they behave the way they do? Character is about the internal issues which drive them. ‘Specifically, both your protagonists need a goal and ideally those goals are in direct conflict with each other’.
The goals are emotional ones, ‘wanting to be rich doesn’t work, but wanting – needing – security does… Give your characters goals that reflect the kind of hopes, joys and fears that women can relate to’.
Show the reader why these goals are important. If someone is driven to succeed, for example, perhaps his father was distant, and the character felt that nothing he ever did was good enough for him. ‘The reader needs to understand why the characters are the way they are.’ If the main characters’ goals oppose each other, eg she has a deep need for security, but he has a fear of commitment, this will create conflict within the novel.
The characters’ internal goals push them apart, while the external situation forces them to stay together. This makes them aware of their attraction for each other. Falling in love is what will ensure a final resolution of the conflict.
Plot: in a Mills & Boon romance in particular, ‘the change, the movement in the story is emotional, not physical.’ It is not that the characters move from A to B, but rather into ‘a series of situations that test their fears, and push them out of their comfort zones.’
Thinking about Jessica’s formula can add emotional tension to a story. Then readers will keep turning the pages to learn how the hero and heroine reach their happy ending.
Here is a link to Jessica's website:http://www.jessicahart.co.uk/Home/tabid/76/Default.aspx