Hi, I’m Liz Flaherty. My fifth book, ONE MORE SUMMER, is brand new in print from Carina Press. To say that whole development is exciting to me is kind of like saying New York is a nice little town. I am a romance writer. Or maybe women’s fiction—kind of depends on who you ask.
Caught without a post today, I went looking into the past for something that might be useful to someone who likes looking at the craft—or art—of writing in different ways. Actually, I looked right into a jump drive that was lying here beside my laptop, but “the past” sounds so much more writer-like, doesn’t it? Sort of single title as opposed to category romance.
I don’t usually try to teach much about writing, because even though I’ve been doing it for at least 100 years, I still consider myself a student of it; however, I LOVE characterization. And, even though I have enough rejections and editorial maybes under my belt to re-tree a forest, no one has ever rejected or editorially maybe-ed my characters.
It’s the easiest, laziest part of writing fiction, and doing it in single title / mainstream is just exactly like doing it in short / category except it’s…uh…even easier and lazier.
If you’re like me, your characters drive your story. Plot is incidental; it’s just what happens to those people. If you take away your characters—gosh, I hate calling them that; they’re people—the story no longer exists, because it’s not going to be the same story with others as its protagonists and secondary characters.
Oh, my goodness, have I just said something important? Well, that depends. If you write character-driven, you just said “duh.” However, if you’re a plot-driven writer, you probably said, “What is she talking about?”
Have you read any of Janet Ivanovich’s Stephanie Plum mystery series, starting with One for the Money? If you have, you know Stephanie’s a smart-talking “New Joizy” girl with a hilarious grandmother and a cousin for every crime. If, on the other hand, you’ve read any of Lawrence Sanders’ Archie McNally series, you know Archie’s a rich guy in his 30s who still lives at home and drives a sharp little red Mazerati.
They’re both young, attractive, witty, and charming. They both have families whose eccentricities add humor and depth to their stories. They both solve mysteries and murders, all the while creating more mayhem for next time. Gender aside, are they interchangeable?
And that, my friends, is single-title / mainstream characterization.
Okay, we all know that we develop our people by giving them individual traits. In a category romance, our heroine may be a little clumsy, a chocoholic, or shy. Something terrible may have even happened to her, a long time ago. Our hero might be a channel surfer, or he might drive too fast, or he may suffer flashbacks of a war fought in a Third World country a long time ago. But any failings they have will be either minor ones that don’t seriously affect the story or they will be in their distant past. This is not because the author doesn’t want to deal with them but because category romances aren’t long enough.
Single title romances are, so all your people’s character traits—or flaws—can affect the story any way you want them to. And if you want that hero to be just six hours home from that war or that heroine to be just three days past the loss of a child, that’s fine, because you have room in single title to address their pain.
And that, my friends . . . oops, repeating myself, aren’t I?
And there’s another part of characterization. If a character starts out with a slightly twitching right eye or a dimple in her left cheek, make sure she keeps it or gets it fixed within the story. If he speaks in a dialect, make sure not to insert enough of it to get annoying, but don’t forget it altogether, or your readers will “hear” your first-generation Irishman speaking with Midwestern nasality. Repeat yourself—just not a lot.
Before I end this, let me add one thought that is purely subjective, speaking from strictly one reader’s point of view, that reader being me. I hate perfect characters. Just as I’m not interested in knowing any in real life, I’m not interested in reading about them, either, because there’s nothing there to identify with.
Contact me: firstname.lastname@example.org
Drop by: http://lizflaherty.com
Tweet me: @LizFlaherty1
Friend me: http://www.facebook.com/lizkflaherty
Blurb for ONE MORE SUMMER
Grace has taken care of her widowed father her entire adult life and the ornery old goat has finally died. She has no job, no skills and very little money, and has heard her father’s prediction that no decent man would ever want her so often she accepts it as fact.
But she does have a big old house on Lawyers Row in Peacock, Tennessee. She opens a rooming house and quickly gathers a motley crew of tenants: Promise, Grace’s best friend since kindergarten, who’s fighting cancer; Maxie, an aging soap opera actress who hasn’t lost her flair for the dramatic; Jonah, a sweet, gullible old man with a crush on Maxie.
And Dillon, Grace’s brother’s best friend, who stood her up on the night of her senior prom and has regretted it ever since. Dillon rents Grace’s guest house for the summer and hopes to make up for lost time and past hurts—but first, he’ll have to convince Grace that she’s worth loving…