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Saturday, April 30, 2022 war romance conflict story

Plastic soldiers on game board

War—the ultimate conflict when communication has broken down and words have given way to violence. Many romances are set against the stage of war with military personnel as main characters and violent armed conflict as the background. 

War settings have the ultimate stakes for the individuals and society. Violent armed conflict poses immediate risks to the lives of the characters and their loved ones. War jeopardises livelihoods and the economy. 

In situations in which war is the driver of the economy, there are trade-offs for the characters. They might pay higher taxes, have fewer social services, or not be able to pursue their aspirations because their labour is redirected to the war effort. Their might also have been jobs in the war machine that would not have been available otherwise. Jobs in armament factories where people made friends, found love, and career advancement. 

War also creates high-stakes moral dilemmas. To what degree, if any, does a society give up some of its freedoms (blackouts, curfews, rations, and so on) to support a war effort? To what degree are individual rights curtailed (a military draft or redirecting labour to produce armaments) to support the war effort? 

These high-stake questions amplified personal and interpersonal conflicts and dilemmas. 

Love in a time of war highlights the capacity for both compassion and savagery in individuals, and those emotional contrasts make for a terrific story. 

Consider a FMC who doesn’t pay attention to international politics. An enemy attacks her country, and she joins the military to defend it. She is at odds with her brother who insists it’s someone else’s problem. She is at odds with her love interest (LI) who wants to start a business with her. She is at odds with her family, LI, and friends who don’t want to see her injured or worse, killed. 

Navigating these complex relationships tests resolve, strengthens some relationships, and destroys others. Maybe the LI doesn’t have the stomach to wait for the FMC to return or they have painful memories of a family member who was killed in another conflict. 

Love in a time of war is both uplifting and crushing. Social norms can be relaxed or tightened, changing how people form and maintain romantic relationships. Relationships might be formed quickly because both parties fear death and want one last good memory before heading off to the front. Relationships might be harder to form because of travel restrictions, rations, roadblocks, and other impediments.

What is love in a time of war? 

Is it one last romp to seek some pleasure? 

Does it afford opportunity for introspection? 

Does it unite people who normally wouldn’t associate, in a common cause? 

What happens to those relationships after the war? 

Do they stay together, or they disintegrate? 

War, like romance, risks everything and loses or gains it all. 

How do your characters act during war? Let me know @reneegendron on Twitter. 

Thank you @Sstaatz for the topic suggestion and @Joa70 from Pixabay for the image. 

Picture of Renée holding her book Jaded Hearts

Twelve years ago, I decided to write again. It was a hobby at first, but as my writing and stories improved, I gave serious thought to publishing. At first, I thought traditional publishing was the route for me, but I knew the odds of being published were slim. 

I attended several author conferences to learn from experienced writers. I attended panels where agents described what they were looking for in an author. I attended sessions in which panellists were representatives of small presses, and they were extremely candid in explaining their resource constraints. A small Canadian press owner said he wouldn’t publish an author if the author had already self-published the book. I asked why. The owner said the author had already taken his customer base away, the author’s friends and family. 

I was stunned by their response. The small press expected to sell 15-25 units. While it’s unlikely an author will make a full-time income selling books, it seemed to me an established press (with its newsletters, social media, connections, etc.) should be able to sell more than 25 units. 

Or, I should say that a small press should have a goal of selling more than 25 units. They shouldn’t stop trying to sell once the author’s sold it to their friends and family. 

The other representatives of small presses on the panel agreed with the person’s assessment of not taking on a self-published book.

That conversation left me with a lot to think about. 

I was leaning towards indie publishing at this point because my fantasy romance series is 29 books. No publisher will agree to a 29-book series from a no-name author. And worse yet, a publisher might agree to the first three books but not the entire series, leaving fans hopping from one publisher to the next looking for the series. And my nightmare, the first book is picked up by a publisher, and they control whether the rest of the series is published for the next seven years. 

One key takeaway from these conferences is that writing a series is easier to sell in the long term than writing a stand-alone book. Indie authors at these conferences say a series provides a higher return on investment in marketing dollars because if a reader picks up book four and likes it, they’ll likely order the first three. 

That works in my favour because I like to write long arcs that can’t be contained in one book. 

I participated in other conferences that had representatives from larger publishers on panels. One panel discussed the importance of authors self-promoting their work because publishers don’t have the budget to market their books. Many publishers no longer pay for author tours, and it’s up to the author to organise blog tours, pay publicists, and attend book shows.

If the author’s expected to put that much effort into marketing, I’m leaning towards keeping more of the royalties to compensate for that work. Most publishing companies don’t budget on their percentage of royalties. If you have an agent, additional percentages are directed to the agent. 

A publisher said they receive over 6,000 submissions for 48 slots. Of those 48 slots for new books in one year, 12 are already earmarked for a specific series. That leaves 36 books that the publisher would be open to considering books. Of those 36 books, the publishing company leans heavily in favour of authors they’ve worked with before.  

The editors are swamped with submissions which is why most authors receive a form rejection. The editors don’t have the time to provide individualised feedback. 

Finding these calls and submitting the proposals (which have to be tailored to each publisher) seems like a lot of work for a low acceptance rate. 

Traditional publishers and agents are the way to go for many authors. Publishing companies and agents offer unique value-add to a large swathe of writers. Many writers prefer to leave the business stuff to professionals and focus on writing their next book. 

That’s okay. 

What I’m presenting are my experiences and perceptions. 

The first year of COVID did something to my brain. I couldn’t write fantasy romance anymore. I had started the first four books of a series fantasy romance series, but I couldn’t continue with them. At least, not at that time. 

I switched from writing exclusively fantasy romance to other genres including contemporary, historical westerns, and sports romances, to jumpstart my writing. Someone tagged me in a call for a book submission as part of a common-world series. Multiple authors would be writing books based on the same world, and their characters could and would interact with one another. 

It was an interesting concept and in a new genre. I had never submitted to a publisher and figured it was worth this one shot.  

I submitted an outline, and it was approved. I wrote the piece and submitted the first three chapters. I was thrilled when the editor asked for a full manuscript, which I promptly submitted. The editor came back to me with suggestions on improving the text and said she’d be willing to review the entire manuscript again.

I was excited to receive such coaching and advice from an editor at a respected mid-range publisher in the United States. I know several authors who have published with this company and were extremely pleased with their experience. I reworked my manuscript and resubmitted it. It was turned down. 

I could have lived with it being turned down. However, the editor said it wasn’t a fit for the common-world series and then directed me to a fee-for-editing service at the same publisher. I perceived the common-world series as a hook to attract different (new to the publisher authors) and then direct them to their paid editing services.

Whether that was the publisher’s intention or not, that’s how I interpreted the situation. It left me more convinced that Indie publishing was the way for me. I control the costs and the production schedule and have full creative oversight of the cover, marketing, and social media posts. I also have direct control over how much advertisement I spend and when. 

I’m always learning and honing the skills needed to be an indie author. I regularly take writing courses to improve my craft. I participate in a professional writers’ association and attend conferences. I listen to writing-related podcasts and learn about marketing, social media, and different mechanisms that successful indie authors use to keep their content fresh, balance writing with running the publishing business and keep to a production schedule. 

I learned about the broader indie author ecosystem and the services available to support an indie author. These include low-cost cook cover options, editing services, video trailer services, and a host of other supports for successfully launching a book.

By no means am I suggesting you sink 10k in a book launch. I take the grow-steady approach, where I grow my following/readership over time. All money I make from writing gets reinvested into marketing. I have strategic marketing campaigns, and I look for no-cost, low-cost ways of advertising. I engage in review swaps and so on. 

The group 20 books to 50k offers great marketing insights. This group is tightly moderated. It’s best to sort through their archives before asking a question (as the question will likely not be accepted by an admin). They have a yearly conference in which most sessions are viewable through Youtube. 

Years ago, I decided to be a writer. I didn’t know which route I would take, but as I engaged with the market, it became clearer that indie publishing was my way. Will I think that way in five- or ten years? I don’t know. But for now, indie all the way. 

Thank you @LouSchlesinger for the topic suggestion. 

Readers are encouraged to reach out to me on Twitter @reneegendron 

Wednesday, March 23, 2022 time writing passage of time pacing
Steampunk clock courtesy 3209107 on Pixabay
Steampunk clock courtesy 3209107 on Pixabay

 

I struggle with time jumps in my writing. My characters travel from point A to point B on a mission. Watch any movie based in large metropolitans such as London, New York, or Tokyo, and they show the characters in a car or on a subway. They get to their destination in no time while commuters familiar with those cities laugh or cry at how easily the MC moves around. Writers engage in time jumps to speed up time. The one exception to this was the show 24, where events were portrayed as they occurred.

Earlier in my writing journey, I wrote every detail of my MC’s journey, which was mind-numbing for readers. No one wants to read about how every meal is hunted and prepared or how the MC didn’t sleep well because they slept on the ground. Okay, okay, okay. You can write about every little detail if you’re Tolkien. I, however, am not Tolkien, and my readers aren’t as tolerant of slow pacing.

It’s okay to put details in if it advances the plot. If you spend time (words) describing a meal, how does that meal deepen characterisation or highlight a conflict? If your MC eats something new, do they have an allergic reaction or get food poisoning? How would those situations advance or hinder your MC’s ability to work towards the book’s goal?

There are many shorthand ways to speed up the pacing of your story. There’s the dialogue slip-in where one character mentions it’s a two-hour drive or a month-long boat voyage. The reader has a sense of the length of travel without being burdened or distracted by it.

Another shorthand is to deepen the POV. Show your MC’s blistered-covered feet and the hole in their shoe from a three-month hike across the country. There are other creative ways of showing the passage of time—adding or losing weight, greying of hair and/or presence of wrinkles, changes in the terrain (the last time the MC was home, there was a river running through the property, now the river has dried to a creek), changes in season, mentioning a character’s birthday (the story starts with a three-year-old-MC and there’s a jump to their tenth birthday), and so on.

All these approaches to the passage of time can be boiled down to one sentence or expanded into pages of details (provided they advance the plot or deepen characterisation).

Here’s an example of a time jump from my western historical romance, Jaded Hearts.

Bertram’s POV and these are the last sentences of chapter 2:

 

Bertram grimaced. Da’s past threatened to rob his future, and it wasn’t even noon.   

 

 

These are the opening lines of chapter 3 in Ruthanna’s POV:

Ruthanna sat in a high-backed chair in the dining room of the Anderson Hotel. The dust from her travels washed from her face, but the fatigue of her journey still weighed on her body. 

 

I used a chapter closing to have a half-day time jump.

 

Here’s another passage of time from Ruthanna’s POV:

Sucking in a large breath, she dug deep inside her to the little Ruthanna, who was dragged from mining camp to mining camp on a moment’s notice without a proper breakfast or full night’s sleep. Twenty-six-year-old Ruthanna found the strength of five-year-old Ruthanna always had and pushed herself to her unsteady feet. Her heel caught the hems of her skirts, and she stumbled backwards, crashing on her shoulder and bashing her head on a boulder.

Something cracked. Bone, brain, both.

Her tongue rolled back in her throat, and she choked. Her mind fled to somewhere dark and throbbing and senseless, but her body rushed to the rescue, rolling her to her side, forcing a sputtering cough from her lungs.

Time passed.

Minutes. Hours. Geological.

Agony dragged her away from death to awareness with a steady pounding beat against her skull.

 

 

Here’s an excerpt from Seven Points of Contact:

Dad grunted, the same grunt when he was onto something, but willing to keep it a secret—for now.

By the end of the first game, the colour of Dad’s cheeks had drained to a sickly pallor reserved for dead fish. He hadn’t touched his can of Ensure, but he had settled deeper into his chair and closed his eyes.

Jonas was three years old again, wanting but unable to help with adult problems—offering a cookie when surgery was needed. “You want me to stay?” 

 

I could have given a hand by hand (they’re playing cards) description of how Jonas’ father is waning, but that didn’t serve the plot.

 

Another example from Seven Points of Contact:

 

Miranda finished her reports for the day.

 

 

*

I could have gone into the minute details of a car loan application, but it didn’t deepen characterisation, advance the plot, or add conflict.

 

Shorten moments (fewer words) when nothing of significance happens. Expand moments of time (give them word count) when they demonstrate conflict, strong emotion (characterisation), are a key learning point that the MC might not yet learn or present an obstacle. Well-crafted time jumps ensure good pacing and reader engagement.

 

Thank you, @LouSchlesinger, for the topic suggestion.

A man and a woman flanking a second woman and bullying her

 

An interesting book keeps the reader engaged throughout, with surprises and plot twists.

A standard romance trope is good girls with bad guys. This plays out in crime/mafia/biker scenarios where the hero is a criminal, and the heroine is not. Another version is the bully romance, where the hero is a bully or overbearing boss or billionaire who owns everything but compassion. Other bad boys are the nomads, outlaws, snipers, soldiers, and alpha males who care for only themselves.

The bad boy trope is has a male lead that isn’t always likeable. He doesn’t need to have a redeeming quality. Sometimes, the female lead will try to change him, but that can be futile. Such a notion also plays into the false, misleading perception that one must change, that she must change him, to ensure their romantic relationship continues. Another concern with this perspective is that she must tolerate and accept his inappropriate behaviour, outbreaks, bullying, shouting matches, arrogance and sometimes abuse in the name of love.

Anti-hero/bad boy male leads in romances have gained popularity in the last decade. Writers have the right to write such stories. Readers have the right to read such stories. I’m simply pointing out my observations.

Let’s look at the flip side and explore what happens when the female main character (FMC) is the bad character. The bad character is assertive, dominates, breaks conventions, intimidates and breaks the law. What does the bad girl do that jars the reader?

It’s the change in the power dynamic that challenges readers’ assumptions. What happens if it’s the FMC who is the bully boss? Many perceive a woman who is assertive as bossy. Add some intimidation and bullying, and she is perceived as an unsympathetic character. If the female lead is unrelatable or unsympathetic, such characters are cast as villains. Think of the wicked witch in Snow White.  

Let’s play around with a bully female character and explore ways for unsettling the trope while still engaging the reader. Bully romances tend to occur in office or work settings. Let’s call our FMC Marie.

Marie is the founder and CEO of a mining company. She works in a male-dominated field. She cannot show doubt or uncertainty, or her leadership is jeopardised. She cannot show compassion towards employees (who have lost a loved one or want flex time) because that makes her appear emotional and weak. If she plays hardball during a conversation, that makes her a ball-breaking bitch.  

When her company needs investors, she’ll need to work twice as hard to prove that she’s competent enough to manage the funds to banks and venture capitalists. She’ll likely get unfavourable terms and conditions on loans and investments. She’ll push back on the conditions only to receive even more unfavourable counter-offers from banks and investors. This can make her bitter and mean.

Not quite the kind of female lead many readers can relate to, let alone stick with for sixty thousand words.

Let’s flip the situation again. The male main character (MMC) is named Scott. He started a tech company and approached venture capitalists. He was confident and assertive and landed ten million dollars to start his company. He elbowed and clawed and bullied his way to the top of the industry.

What is he? A bad boss or an inspiration? Odds are he’s viewed as a role model and inspiration. He’ll be invited to speak at prominent conferences and forums. He’ll be regarded as a captain of industry.

Despite these and other challenges, my advice is to write the story you want to write. Write the story that smooths feathers or the one that ruffles them. My overall suggestion is to be aware of how your story will be perceived. Start a conversation about expectations and norms and then smash those common beliefs. Write a story that meets readers’ expectations while sharing insight into why or how these expectations are harmful.

What makes bad boy tropes appealing is their alignment with many people’s expectations of power and authority. What makes bad girl tropes confrontational is that they don’t measure up to readers’ expectations of women. Sometimes this can be appealing to readers. Often it pushes readers away.

Whichever version of the bad person trope you choose to write, always include one or two redeeming qualities to ensure the reader can empathise. Allowing for both positive and negative qualities makes the character more realistic and believable as a love interest and, in the end, loveable.

 

Thank you, @Sstaatz, for the topic suggestion.

Readers are encouraged to reach out to me on Twitter @reneegendron to continue the conversation.

The image is courtesy Yan Krukov from Pexel.com

Tuesday, January 11, 2022 inspiration writing ideas

 

 

I draw inspiration for stories from two main sources: tumblers and plaques.

The first source is tumblers where I playing around with a world. I enjoy building communities, exploring professions, interpersonal conflicts, friendships, families, and economies. I like writing communities because they change over time. People move away, they move into a place, people start businesses, businesses fail. There’s always a push and a pull.

I play around with tropes, professions, and how they interact with the meta-story. I get an understanding of a meta-conflict that can keep a series going, and then I drill down to individual stories.

I love playing around with tropes. I learn about tropes from different sources. The first source is TV tropes(1). TV tropes does an excellent job breaking down the plot points, identifying common aspects of the main characters, and linking the story to the broader genre. If you’re not careful, you can lose a week of your life on that website.

The second is Mindy Klasky’s website(2). Mindy’s website has a variety of romance-related tropes. They serve as touch points to craft a story around. The third is Go Teen Writers, which has an impressive list of romance tropes.

I think in terms of process and structures. Once I have a sense of the story’s structure, I set out to make the characters unique. I create characters with unusual professions. For example, in my upcoming release, Seven Points of Contact, Miranda is a car loan officer, and Jonas was a salesman but is considering opening a sporting goods store. Characters with professions that aren’t normally portrayed in stories are more interesting to write. The characters bring different skills and experiences to the romance (in my case because I write romances) and the non-romance plot (I always include a non-romance plot).

I play around with professions and tropes. What’s more interesting for characters with those professions to do? Is it more dynamic to have an enemies to lovers or a road trip trope? I fiddle around with the dynamics, see which one generates more conflict, and take it from there.

I write long series. I keep a series-long table of the characters, professions, the romance and non-romance tropes (mystery, thriller, action-adventure, etc.) I ensure that each book has a unique combination of these variables.

For my Outdoorsmen Series (contemporary crime romance), the common thread is people who like being outdoors. I ask myself what kinds of jobs they have, what are their interests, what problems do their jobs and hobbies cause. If someone likes fishing and gets up at 4am, that will cause problems with their significant other who likes to stay out late at comedy clubs. 

I played with professions (different environmental law enforcement officers in Environment Canada, the province of Ontario) and different love interests (translater or intellectual property lawyer with a food business). I played around with the crimes they solve. 

Tumblers: romance trope, crime(s), professions. 

For my mines and minerals series, I look at the historical context (western Canada in circa 1885). I think of the hardy souls who would have endured the long journeys and the brual cold and pioneered. I think of the First Nations who lived there for thousands of years and their cultural shock at encountering Europeans. Which dynamics that does this create that can be harnassed for a good story? 

Tumblers: romance trope, non-romance trope (save the ranch, start a business on the frontier, etc.) professions. 

For my Heartened by Sports series, the common thread is sports. What kind of sports do people play, how does that impact their lives, are they professionals or amateurs, what are the dynamics of that community (competitive sports with an eye on the big leagues or amateur with an eye for the beer after the game)? 

Tumblers: sports, non-sports income, romance trope, non-romance plot. 

I call this process a tumbler process. I look at the combinations, see which ones click, and ensure that each combination (a book in a series) is unique. For example, I write western historical romances. One book might have a rancher as a lead character who experiences a friends to lovers romance on an action-adventure trope. If I have a second rancher in that series, they will have an enemies to lovers trope and a thriller non-romance trope.

The second source of inspiration is history. Yes, I’m the person who reads historical plaques. At the beginning of this blog, the picture is the plaque from a statute in Savannah, Georgia. I found it interesting that a regiment of troops of African ancestry from Saint-Domingue was dispatched to support American troops fighting the American Revolutionary War. The regiment was critical in the Siege of Savannah, capturing the city from the British.

I take pictures of statues and historical plaques. Here are two pictures of some of the plaques I've photographed. 

 

 

When I see these plaques, I think of the people who would have first witnessed the event. I think of their lives, their families, the struggles they faced. I think of how would they felt might have felt witnessing the event. 

I tease a story from there. I insert a sliver of historical truth (or possibility) and insert it into the past or some fantasy or contemporary or sci-world. I play with the idea. I run it through tumblers. 

Yes, the chasseurs-volontaires from Saint-Domingue, the seigneurie of L’Orignal, and the opening of Canada's King's Road will have a place in upcoming stories. No, they won’t be incorporated into the same story. No, I don’t have a date as to when the stories involving these two events will be released.

Tumblers and history. That’s where I draw my inspiration.

Which tumbles influence your writing? Reach out to me on Twitter @reneegendron or on FB 

Thank you, @LouSchlesinger, for the topic suggestion.

(1) https://tvtropes.org/

(2) https://www.mindyklasky.com/index.php/for-writers/romance-tropes/

(3) https://goteenwriters.com/2015/12/16/145-romance-tropes/