Thursday, May 28, 2009

Why the fine line exists

T.J. and Diana have already given us great posts about reality in fiction, and especially in popular fiction. Face it - you won't read about vampires in literature now, would you?

As writer, crit partner and also as editor, I have come across some instances where the people writing want it to be real. Fine, but you must know there's fictionalised real and utter realism. And that, is the distinction between popular fiction and literature.

The example I am going to take pertains to 2 authors studied in literature classes today. Dickens and Austen. Oliver Twist/Great Expectations versus Sense and Sensibility/Pride and Prejudice. Which one of them would you be more inclined to read? The latter, right? Why? Because Austen never set up her works to portray the drab reality of her time and the utter grit and realism of life in her era. You may argue that Austen writes about big families and nobility and well-to-do people, but hey, Tess of the Ubervilles (Hardy) was also about a big family. Check out the differences between the treatment in the two author's penning.

Austen can be said to be popular fiction, while Dickens and Hardy are hardcore literature. When Austen penned her tales, she didn't do so to impress that her time was hard. She wrote them as a social depiction of women in her position. It was escapist in nature, even though it used aspects of society and reality to put across the situation and plight of her heroines.

Popular fiction is about this - you use an aspect of reality as the foil for enveloping your characters' stories. Imagine a whole fish wrapped in foil paper that you put in the embers of the grill during a barbecue. When lunch/dinner time comes, you open the foil to get to the cooked food. In popular fiction, the foil is the reality and the fish is the story of the characters (whether romance, suspense, drama). It's the other way round for literature - the foil is your characters and the fish is reality, because you're aiming to show reality in all its smaller detail.

Which brings me to another point we have considered this month - how real should your character be? I've often heard writers say they want their character to be as real as possible. That's fine, as long as he is real enough but not a mirror image of the real people out there. Imagine the typical thirty-something male who's supposed to be the hero of your romance. Most real guys in that age bracket live for the trip to the pub, meeting the mates and hollering like a madman over a game of soccer live on the enormous flat-screen that's just above the bar. He almost always forgets birthdays, anniversaries and big dates, and you can be pretty sure that given the choice between cuddling with his girl and playing Fifa 2000-whatever on the X-Box with his mates with a six-pack close by, he'll choose the second option. That's reality - is that the romance hero you want? Fine - not all men are tycoons and millionaires and handsome like Greek Gods. Yet this is exactly what we're looking for, because not all men are tycoons, millionaires and handsome like Greek Gods. Reality, and ultimately literature, is Homer Simpson singing SpiderPig in your front room; popular fiction is Daniel Craig coming out of the water in his tiny-tiny shorts every time you turn in his direction.

Another example - tabloids. Why are they so popular? Because they tell us most often about the downfall of the rich, beautiful and famous. We're not rich, beautiful or famous like them, and it's nice to note that they don't get everything on a platter while walking on the red carpet everywhere. Imagine the chubby gal with the buck teeth and the frumpy hair at your local supermarket, and imagine the likes of Paris Hilton. If you're told, her man ditched her, what will you think? For the socialite, you'll go, aww that's so sad, but inside you'll be like, good for her. Why? Because she's got it all why you don't. I know, bitchy, but that's reality. Same for the supermarket girl. You'll be like, she had a man? While I don't (and I'm ultimately better than she is)??? Face it - we don't want to see people worse off than us with what we don't ahve, and we want to see the ones who have it all fall and come back to our level again. Watch talk shows and check out the happy-happy couples who profess their love for each other at every turn and who look welded together. Half the time, he looks like Elmer from the Looney Tunes and she looks like something the cat dragged in. While we're slathering on the sunscreen, the makeup, enduring torture when waxing our legs and blow-drying our hair every morning, where's our guy? The one who'll stand by us always and who thinks we're the most beautiful creature of the world even as we wake up with puffy eyes and the imprint of our pillowcase on our cheek?

Reality is okay, but we already live reality -our reality- every single day. We don't want to read about it too. Fiction is escapism, fiction is hope for us that we too can make it, we too can be the most beautiful thing in the world to another person, that we too can climb the corporate ladder and break the glass ceiling, that we too can rake in the moolah effortlessly.

Write literature if you're intent on realism. Write popular fiction if you want to bring hope into the world.

I'd love your take on my very long-winded post! Any comments welcome!

Aasiyah Qamar - Cultural Romantic Fiction, With a Twist
Coming out October 2 - Light My World - Eirelander Publishing
Nolwynn Ardennes - The Promise of Fulfilment
Coming out in January 8, 2010 - Storms in a Shot Glass - Eirelander Publishing

Aasiyah Qamar/Nolwynn Ardennes - Romance the world over

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Reality Check

Yeah, I know a little about reality, and then again, I don't. How is that possible? It's not as much of a brain teaser as you might think. Realism is simply how far you are willing to suspend belief in a story. Vampires and shifters=suspension of belief, the world they live=reality. Yet when that fails, when it falls short and ends up being the next dent in your wall, then reality was not consistent. Consistency is what supports realism in writing. Within one book or a whole series. When it fails, it usually fails huge. Picture the breach of "RED OCTOBER" for spectacular.

Consistent realism is necessary in most genres. Make-believe 'home towns' in contemporaries, other worlds in science fiction, the wild and sometimes unexpected of paranormal and the magic and off beat of fantasy. There's more, but I'd be here all day.

Most who read romance know several authors have vampire series. Consistency within those series builds the realism book to book. If an author suddenly changes in mid-stream, it breaks the thread. Kind of like a skipped line on an old RPM. That's a vinyl record in case I just dated myself. *wink*

Realism is the background of the story that we, as readers, can connect with. Real life situations, locations, experiences. Reality is very important in any book, be it the background of the stage or the reality of the characters. I know Z and TJ have discussed the Alpha hero and the reality of their A personality quirks. My point, while probably a bit more convoluted--it can happen at 10 at night!--is simply, realism, reality, our connection to the story, can be any part of the story from the locale to the strength of the characters to their job.

What do you think? Where does reality have to be expressed? What can you forgive?

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

There is a Fine Line

Most authors can draw an imaginary line in their heads and say, 'this is the point I won't step over'. It's not unusual. In fact, it is necessary. If you look at most publishers' websites, you can see what they will take and what they won't. Some of it is pretty standard other aspects are a little gray. There are a few who give you leeway, while others are period and point blank – no, no, no.

You always have to remember there are some aspects of reality in this world that can't be delved into unless you are writing on-fiction. Believe me, these are tough subject and tough content to take on.

The fact is, reality is a crucial piece of the puzzle when it comes to penning a story. Take the reality too far and you can land in the realm of the unsellable or you can find yourself in the town called Bland and Boring.

Bland and boring often happens when realism takes over the story. The blow by blow of everyday life where every meal is gone over and the daily habits of a character/s becomes droll. Life is boring. Look at me. I'm sitting at my computer typing this blog post. I'll tell you, I have a cup of tea on the corner and am about to change the channel from Antiques Road Show.

See, boring.

Another story line that can bring on the yawns is utopian writing. Utopian is often used in Spec-fic, but it is done in a way to either up the emotional drive by having the Utopian culture fall into chaos or the foil of an outsider entering, and shaking up, the perfection of bliss. Romance has become a watershed for the global HEA. That would be where everybody gets to live in the golden glow of everything is perfectly fine.

Now, I don't mind it when the hero and heroine find the coveted happily ever after, but what about the antagonist? What if you have a villain? What if you have a couple of bad rats in there? Do they really deserve an HEA?

That's a question for the author. The other side of the coin is does this come across as realistic?

Unequivocally, no.

There is a fact in writing there must be a balance between good and bad, reality and fiction. You have to know the lines you can step over and the ones that are clearly etched in the concrete.


So, tell me, is there a line or am I off the mark. Should characters be punished when they step over the line or do you prefer a global HEA?

I do hope you have enjoyed our month on reality in writing.

Until next Tuesday, cheers and happy writing,



Editor-in-Chief, Eirelander Publishing

Monday, May 25, 2009

With Love, from Ms. Blush

Hello to you all wonderful, beautiful people!

We hit the last week of May and also the last week about reality in writing.

How much reality is real enough, and how much real is too real? Yes, there is such a thing as too much realism in writing.

Catch the posse of RBA this week as we tackle this issue.

On Tuesday, T.J. will tell us more about the fine line between reality and boredom. This is one line many writers cross and one that may contribute a good deal to the unsaleability factor of mss.

Wednesday, catch Diana's take on the whole matter of realism and reality in writing. She brings to light some important considerations we could all benefit from pondering over.

Thursday, Z(Aasiyah/Nolwynn) weighs in on the discussion too, with her topic slanted on reality when slotted in popular fiction and in the other genre, literature.

Don't forget:

This May, we're scratching at the surface of escapism and bursting the bubble of what constitutes reality in fiction.

This May, we're on the quest:

Searching for an appropriate reality...

The best of us for the best of you, that's our promise as we deliver the full flush of romance.

From now till later, enjoy!

With love, from Ms. Blush

Thursday, May 21, 2009

A House Call

This week, we're supposed to be talking about heroes, and how realistic they should be and how they should be portrayed.

This got me thinking about an unlikely hero - Dr. Gregory House (House M.D). Oh yeah, he is sarcastic, caustic, brings irony to a new level and basically you want to sock him one half the time. Why is he a hero then? How can this hateable man be likable, and even sympathetic? Yes, I found him sympathetic, once, and that's when he won me over.

T.J mentioned that one of the biggest strokes of genius when Margaret Mitchell penned Rhett Butler was that she made this Alpha man behave like an Alpha. It's what they did for House too.

Gregory House seems to hate women. Okay, he hates everyone. Sometimes he is seen to 'like' his best friend Dr. James Wilson and he has shown compassion and feelings for his colleague Dr. Allison Cameron and he often portrays a distant attachment and affection for his boss, Dr. Lisa Cuddy. This somewhat makes him human, though I do also think the fact that he doesn't hesitate to tell everyone the truth about them also makes him human (come on, wouldn't you want to be so frank sometimes?). But what I'm talking about is when his ex-girlfriend Stacy Warner walked back into the picture. Stacy manipulated it so that House would have an operation he didn't want, and he holds her responsible for the way his life has degenerated (his limp, his enduring pain, the need to drown in Vicodin). So Stacy has moved on, married someone else, Mark, and now she's back at the Princeton-Plainsborough Hospital where House works to be the legal representative.

House still loves her, it's obvious, though it's never shown that he is simpering or whining over the loss of his one true love. It is calmly apparent in his gaze, in how he watches her. Stacy for her part has moved on, but back in close proximity to House, she knows she still has feelings for him. Starts then a limbo between House and her husband Mark, with House doing everything to break them up so he can win her. I know, not heroic at all. Then Stacy and House do end up sleeping together, but Mark has a stroke and Stacy has to go back to his side. While helping her husband recover, Stacy battles her feelings for House, and starts another dilemma. She comes to the conclusion she'll never be able to leave Mark, especially not in the condition he is, but she doesn't want to let go of House either. She wants the milk and the cow, as House so clearly presents it to her.

And that's when he turned into a hero in my eyes - he asked her to leave. He cannot settle for being the other man, the toy Stacy comes running to play with and then discard when real life calls back. Despite loving her - you can see it's breaking him - he asks her to go. And he also leaves.

Gregory House is an Alpha character, and through the above happenings, he is portrayed as the Alpha man, because this is what an Alpha man does and how he reacts. There is consistency in how he is portrayed. The writers stick to who he inherently is and show him as such, without any window-dressing, giving the tortured soul hiding behind the caustic wit.

You may not agree with me, but a man who doesn't accept to be second best or to be the one in the shadows is heroic for me. House shows how real life is and how real life can be, and I think we as writers should not discount this fact. Reality can be portrayed through fiction - and it can be portrayed well. Just make your characters act like real people would.

Any questions, just holler!

Aasiyah Qamar - Cultural Romantic Fiction, With a Twist
Coming out October 2 - Light My World - Eirelander Publishing
Nolwynn Ardennes - The Promise of Fulfilment
Coming out in January 8, 2010 - Storms in a Shot Glass - Eirelander Publishing

Aasiyah Qamar/Nolwynn Ardennes - Romance the world over

Fact, Fiction and Faking It.

Zaynah let me out of my cave for a few quick minutes the other day and rather than enjoy the sunshine, I went on Facebook Groups. I joined a discussion on whether or not fiction has any value. For me, the answer was clear cut, but it did get me thinking.

How do readers react when it is obvious a writer is faking the facts? I'm talking about the facts that are obvious. An example would be, a character can see the Statue of Liberty from the window of their Yonkers apartment. Another would be a story I read for a review a while ago that was a time travel. I'm not a great authority on Egypt but I do understand that Egyptians are some of the most welcoming people in the Middle East. This writer took literary license to make them sound like Western fearing/hating radicals who wouldn't go near a western woman with a forty-foot cattle prod.

Was I wrong to want to (The review site wouldn't publish my review because the publisher was one of their biggest contributors) ring this author's neck for misrepresenting the culture when I clearly knew she was stereotyping it, and that stereotype didn't fit the actual facts?

Can't wait to read your responses.

Until Tuesday, cheers and happy writing,


This is cross-posted on the Eirelander Facebook Group page.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Up Yours, Scarlett!

One of the endearing qualities Rhett Butler captured and, quite frankly, never gave up was his ability to charmingly put Scarlett O'Hara in her place. Though he did spoil her more than she already was, the fact remained; he was a character who spoke his mind. He was always ready to come to the rescue of Scarlett (remember, heroes are heroic). This aspect of him made him real. He was also an alpha hero (technically, he is a bad boy archetype merged with a chief—can you see how those sixteen archetypes don't always work smoothly?).

Scarlett, an ingénue spoiled brat archetype, is the perfect opposite for him. In a way she is both protagonist and antagonist-as most ingénues are. She pines for her childhood sweetheart, Ashley Wilkes, causes more trouble for herself than even she is prepared to handle simply because tedium and she are cut-to-the-bone enemies and she's got a checkered past (she could have used a couple of crash courses in etiquette and decorum for the time period). Though, not necessarily a lovable character, she is an alpha heroine. Yes, an ingénue can be an alpha. She also 'owns' the story.

At the end of this story, the reader has followed Scarlett's journey (why she 'owns' the story) and have a feeling that Scarlett will always survive. The fact that Rhett leaves her, is not lost on anybody. Rhett wants the quieter, slower pace which he can't find with Scarlett. She has, in essence, worn him down to bare bones. Rhett knows to cut his losses, so he gets out. Both characters have grown to a new realization. Rhett's is down played, because he isn't the lead, but his is very different from where he started (hero's journey).

The fact that Rhett's change is downplayed shouldn't be taken as a misgiving by Ms. Mitchell. It should be taken as a stroke of genius. Alpha heroes, by definition, aren't sappy, whiny characters, and their changes are sometimes diluted to the point they look like window dressing. Ms. Mitchell created a character whom did change but maintained his alpha identity (clue in here – he retained his alpha identity).

So what does this have to do with heroes? Everything. Most changes in men are tamped down. They aren't obvious. Men are more clinical than they are expressive. They logistically think through something (depends on the guy, but it remains true – read Men are from Mars. Women are from Venus.)

We spend hours creating our characters. Some are extraordinarily easy to write, others make us pull out our hair. It makes little difference whether the character is alpha, beta or gamma, it is the job of the author to maintain their identity.

So many authors anymore buy into the part and parcel 'wisdom' of a few special organizations or authors who write books on 'how to write' that say – write this way or hit the highway. I don't partake of the banquet of rules. The one thing I don't appreciate is a character who loses their 'identity'. If you have a hero, make him heroic and hold his feet to the fire when it comes to who he is and who he will be.


Tell me, do you think heroes should be real? Should they be heroic? Should they always hold to their identity?


Until next time, cheers and happy writing,




Monday, May 18, 2009

With Love, from Ms. Blush

Hello to you all wonderful, beautiful people!

This week, we're once again stopping to ponder about realism and characters.

What makes a realistic character? Is reality a tangible thing in writing? Is reality driven by principles of logic?

Another question we received and which we decided to tackle this week was- How realistic should the hero be? And how do we make him realistic?

T.J And Z(Aasiyah/Nolwynn) answer this question through the portrayal of Alpha characters such as Rhett Butler and Gregory House.

Also, don't miss the little slant T.J. will bring further into the week - her view on reality in fiction.

Don't forget:

This May, we're scratching at the surface of escapism and bursting the bubble of what constitutes reality in fiction.

This May, we're on the quest:

Searching for an appropriate reality...

The best of us for the best of you, that's our promise as we deliver the full flush of romance.

From now till later, enjoy!

With love, from Ms. Blush

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Keeping her real

I was always told by my mentor to keep my heroines real. In fact, at some points of my writing, I have tried to come up with a heroine that fits the mould but who, at the same time, was different. I thought I had it right, but I was wrong. Why? Because I polarized her too much. The quiet, self-effacing PA I wanted to create for my novel Storms in a Shot Glass (coming January 2010 with Eirelander Publishing) turned into a wallflower who even melted in the brocade wallpaper so much she was, well, effacing.

So what did I do afterwards, other than let the story sit for a few months until I could understand where I went wrong and how I could make it right?

During one of my endless streaks of inspiration that come when I'm either doing the dishes or ironing (oh yeah, I'm a domestic goddess. Not!!), I had my answer. My heroine wasn't real!

Duh, you'll go, you already knew that. But it did come as a lightbulb moment. In trying to create a 'different' heroine from what is usually done in the realm of the quiet secretary/PA, I had gone to an extreme, and my heroine was no longer human. She also whined too much and made no move to get a grip on her life. Very pathetic.

That got me thinking - why isn't she real? If this gal, Jane, were a real gal I met in the streets of London, what would she be like? I knew she had to be quiet, self-effacing, giving the impression that she was meek and docile. And that's where the key lay - it was naught but an impression, a facade she presented to the world. In the confines of her flat, she is a different woman. She doesn't particularly like living alone or being alone, but it doesn't bother her much more than this. You are after all what you make yourself out to be. Jane tries to fill her life up with her job, and that isn't hard to do when you know her boss is really an immature man behind the facade of the successful CEO. Consequently, Jane doesn't have much time to eat, so she wolfs down microwave-able frozen food when she remembers. That's for the day to day life - this shows her as a 'normal' human. Now as to what made her this way - foray into her backstory. What shaped her into this self-effacing creature? I got another layer as to how to make her real and how to project the person she has become.

I could tell you that I got to know her. You could do this too for your heroine. Think of yourself as a woman (if you're a man, think of the women you know). Read Cosmo and get tips as to what makes a woman tick. Get the overall impression you want her to convey and build this into a logical explanation. Then go into her past and make this logical explanation even more logical by shaping this woman through her past.

You then end up with a believable starting point for your heroine.

Another good strategy would be to invent yourself a best friend who has the characteristics you want your heroine to have. Now, nobody's perfect, and tone her down to someone who could actually exist, someone you could bump into at the Pilates class, at the grocery store, at the corner deli.

In far-reaching cases, say you are writing about a heroine who had a bout with anorexia yet you know about the condition but would you be able to project the existence of a former anorexic truthfully without knowing what it's like? Do your research. Find women who are at this stage in their life and talk/interview them. These little tidbits they'll provide you will be the real deal, and will make your heroine all the more realistic.

And then also, there's your biggest asset - you! What doesn't cut it with you as a reader? When you're creating a heroine, think like a reader. Would this woman get a chance if you picked up her story? Think also like a real person. Would such a character really exist? And if no, what makes her unrealistic? Use this then to make her believable.

Clear as mud? Any questions, just holler!!

Aasiyah Qamar - Cultural Romantic Fiction, With a Twist
Coming out October 2 - Light My World - Eirelander Publishing
Nolwynn Ardennes - The Promise of Fulfilment
Coming out in January 8, 2010 - Storms in a Shot Glass - Eirelander Publishing

Aasiyah Qamar/Nolwynn Ardennes - Romance the world over

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

How Close to Reality Should You Get in Fiction?

This author writes about real life, so I say it’s okay to make your situations real, and your characters act like genuine people. All right, so our characters have to be heroic, there are people in this world who are courageous when they are placed in certain positions.

Your neighbor could be a hero/heroine if he/she pulls you or a child from a burning house. What if he/she calls the police after seeing someone breaking into your house, and he/she thinks there’s a need to do more and they run to your house with a gun or a ball bat or something to help fight off the robbers. Is that a hero/heroine, or is that a stupid move on their part?

That depends entirely on the end results. Does the hero/heroine drive off the bad guys, or does he/she get shot trying to help. To get shot would be dumb and not very heroic, so in that case it would’ve been better to wait at the curb for the cops and still be a hero. If the character is able to drive off the invaders, he/she is a hero/heroine again. It all depends on how the person handles the circumstances.

Being a writer, I am going to make my characters a bit larger than life, so in this instance they will have the knowledge to handle a situation of this type. I may have it built into their background that they are able to act the way we want them to. Because of these skills there are people in the real world who are actually like these make-believe heroes.

To make a story that your readers won’t find fault with, your research into the skills you give your characters should be accurate and as realistic as you can make them. Then again, your character could just have the natural instincts to survive. In this case, you have to get into this person’s head and know what he’s thinking as he acts to make him real.

Thank you for reading my post, and I hope I was able to help other writers in some small way.

Best always,


Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Flesh, Bones and a Personality, if you please


Heroines come in all shapes, sizes, colors and personalities. Some are the perpetual good-girl where as others tend to go off on a rant with the least provocation. I'm sure we all know people who are like this. These people have real lives. They may enjoy their day to day experiences and take great joy in being nothing more than a name in the phone book.

The fact is, life isn't all that interesting and a character that never changes is a bit predictable. Who wants to read about a heroine who is forever in the kitchen or vacuuming the carpet? Okay, so you ramp up the characterization—polarize her. You take your poor, very real heroine to an extreme where you think she's got enough interest to keep the story active. She's so good the church is considering making her a saint. She's a bitch and doesn't give a damn. She's a bit on the pudgy side and always harps on her Rubenesque curves with a sour or depressed attitude (cliché).

That makes sense, right? Wrong.

Readers pick up stories to be entertained. They want that certain element of, 'yeah, she's a bitch', but they also want to see some softness at some point in the story. They want to see the good girl lose her cool, maybe even curse a time or two. They don't necessarily mind a full-figured girl who's looking for love. But, they aren't as prone to want to hear her whine all the time about her weight. These are things to keep in mind. You can take it too far.

This is where a character arc becomes important. If you can visualize an arc, you can write a character arc. There are authors who draw their arcs after the first draft when they can see the characters growth in the story. There are others who plot the arc points before hand. What the arc should show is the miniscule changes in the heroine as she works through the GMC (goal, motivation and conflict). Some might be huge changes, but don't always throw a massive change at your readers. Normally an abrupt shift without the back points reads, well, abrupt and illogical.

A good example is the classic 'hate turns to love' romances. The basic plot is man vs. man. But if you can think of a character arc for a heroine in these stories it would simply state.

  1. Hate
  2. Love to hate
  3. Hate to love (like) – this is the major arc point.
  4. Love

Not so hard.

The simple formulation of an arc can be done for almost any plot though it might have more points. What this can do is help you to make your characters appear real.


Until next week, cheers and happy writing,



Monday, May 11, 2009

With Love, from Ms. Blush

Hello to you all wonderful, beautiful people!

Reality and fiction. Reality and escapism. Reality and well, real people... How real should the fictionalised real be?

We started the debate over this question last week through backstory, and how to use it to bring realism and a dose of real to your characters.

But what makes a realistic character? Is reality a tangible thing in writing? Is reality driven by principles of logic?

The question we were asked to tackle was - What makes a real heroine? How real should she get? And also, how to make the real heroine believable, approachable, and likable?

Catch us this week as we answer on this loaded debate.

On Tuesday, T.J. will bring you the points to consider on realism and the heroine. Find tips also on how to do achieve reality by working around the character arc.

On Wednesday, Sandra Marshall brings us her view on the matter of realism in fiction, and how she as a writer strives to achieve this.

On Thursday, Z(Aasiyah/Nolwynn) will tell us more about what she views as the real heroine and how she aims to get in touch with reality.

Don't forget:

This May, we're scratching at the surface of escapism and bursting the bubble of what constitutes reality in fiction.

This May, we're on the quest:

Searching for an appropriate reality...

The best of us for the best of you, that's our promise as we deliver the full flush of romance.

From now till later, enjoy!

With love, from Ms. Blush

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Skip the dump

Backstory. The word alone is enough to send many writers running for cover. Why? Because it's supposedly not to be done, it's to be avoided, it's nothing but a worthless dumping, it doesn't help you--

Stop it right there!! Like T.J. has already pointed out, you need backstory. Why? Just think of who you are. You meet someone new and he/she asks, who are you? You go, I am this and that and that. How did the 'this and that and that' come about? It's been shaped by what you've experienced and been through. In short, it's your backstory.

Now imagine meeting this new character in a book. You need to root for this person, feel for her, empathize with her. For this, you need to know her, and how do you do that if you ahve absolutely no idea who she is and what she's been through?

The big question that comes up at this stage of the reflexion is - how much is too much?

Well, you can find yourself spewing 3 pages of her life story - Mary was born in Bromley in Kent on the outskirts of London on May 14, 1978 to a plumber father and a housewife mom; did her schooling at St Catherine's School for girls; got her degree at the London School of Economics with honours and went to work for Hensley and Scarbridge, the biggest investment firm in the City right after she graduated. Along the way, Mary dated Nate and then they broke up and she went out with Steve, but this too didn't work out and she tried her luck with Mike but this too failed and now she's single again in this big town.

Come on guys - backstory doesn't mean you're writing her obituary! There are ways of giving this info without needing to drone on and on and without dumping a pile of information on your reader.

A good way of adding backstory is through conversation. A good/trusted friend engages your character in a conversation when they are, say, on the way to meet a medium whom they hope will tell Mary when Mr. Right will cross her path. Using the information you have on Mary, you weave this through the dialogue. For example, her friend may go - "Drop the Catholic guilt, Mary. Going to see a medium is not a cardinal sin. For a girl who graduated from LSE with honours, you can be so daft at times!"

That's about 3 lines in your story, yet check to see how much info it has already conveyed on Mary. This can even be your opening line, and you get to know all this before Mary even makes her appearance and opens her mouth.

The key to escape the info dump with backstory is to weave it through. Whether through dialogue or through little reflections on the character's behalf along the way, you plant little seedlings of backstory that after a while, bloom into the big picture for your reader.

Avoiding the info dump is also about showing rather than telling. Consider the above example again - the first 'obituary' told you who Mary was, while second showed you who she is (the catholic guilt being mentioned - shows she is nervous and maybe having second thoughts about the trip.)

Any questions, feel free to holler!

Aasiyah Qamar - Cultural Romantic Fiction, With a Twist
Coming out October 2 - Light My World - Eirelander Publishing
Nolwynn Ardennes - The Promise of Fulfilment
Coming out in early 2010 - Storms in a Shot Glass - Eirelander Publishing

Aasiyah Qamar/Nolwynn Ardennes - Romance the world over

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

I don't get it!

One of the questions I get most often is how much backstory is too much backstory?

That's not an easy question to answer since when a story is in the set-up phase, I have to know something about the characters to really wrap my brain around them. That's not to say I need three chapters of backstory. Just enough information for the characters to make their mark on the story and gain my interest.

One of the most idiotic rules to come into writing was the whole 'no backstory' rule. I honestly think this one was created to throw every aspiring author into a tizzy going, 'we can't have backstory'. Then, being new to this industry, they took it too an extreme.

Here goes - backstory.

There is a rule of thumb for works under twenty-thousand words. Set up is golden if you can do it in thirteen paragraphs but no more than twenty-five. Short stories are considered character forward so the character's/s' motivations drive the story. Now you see why the backstory coming into play is so important here. If the characters don't have roots (ie. backstory) how can the story grow?

In longer works backstory is equally important. If you stare at GMC (goals, motivation and conflict), the backstory is directly attached to the three main points of the character arc. This must work logically.

An example would be:

Basic plot - man vs. himself
Master plot - romance
Thematic Premise - permission to love

The character starts off down in the dumps. Love lost or the loss of the soul mate plays into this. His GOAL is to find love. His Motivation is directly attached to the plot - even if he doesn't know it. Crisis is the unwillingness or something along that line.

Here's a clue, if I don't know what he's lost, his motivation for being in the story, or where he is heading (plot forward), I'm lost.

In novel length romance the rule of thumb is within the first three chapters (note I did not say the characters needed to meet in the first chapter--another stupid rule).

My biggest bit of advice is explain as much as you can, but keep it brief. If you find yourself going on and on, you've gone too far. Most authors who are successful at planting their characters can do so in one to three paragraphs. In longer works you can build from the initial planting point. In short works, the springboard is there and you can drive the plot easily.

Just remember, if your readers don't get it, they aren't likely to spend much time on your story.

Questions, comments, hate mail -- just post it.

Until next time, cheers and happy writing,


Monday, May 4, 2009

With Love, from Ms. Blush

Hello to you all wonderful, beautiful people!

I trsut it you've had a nice little break? Well, I can already tell ya that we here at RBA had a very fulfilling time and now we're back and raring to go!

During our little time off, we conducted a little survey among some trusted guinea pigs, oops, sorry, fellow writers (you know we love you guys, right?) and it has come to our attention that there is one tiny aspect pertinent to writing and logic that can blow out of proportion if one is not careful.

It's about realism and the portrayal of reality in romance and popular fiction in general. How real should we as writers get? Is real boring? Is real not worthy of falling in love with? Where to draw the line between the escapism notion of popular fiction and the gritty portrayal of reality in literature?

This is what we'll be talking about this month. This week, we've already started with backstory, or how to make your characters appear real through this simple but loaded term.
Catch us for the rest of the month as we go through what makes a realistic heroine, how real a hero needs to be, and whether romance and fiction is about escapism or reality.

Our regular contributors, Sandra Marshall and Diana Castilleja, will be chiming in on the debate. The regulars, T.J. and Aasiyah/Nolwynn, will continue to provide insight on the topics every week.

This May, we're scratching at the surface of escapism and bursting the bubble of what constitutes reality in fiction.

This May, we're on the quest:

Searching for an appropriate reality...

The best of us for the best of you, that's our promise as we deliver the full flush of romance.

From now till later, enjoy!

With love, from Ms. Blush