Friday, December 25, 2009

Happy Christmas and Hanukkah

Best wishes to all from sunny Johannesburg. Wherever you are, whether you're enjoying sun or snow, we wish you all the best for this season and for the coming year.

Friday, December 18, 2009

External Conflict vs Internal Conflict

For romance writers, this is a biggie.

You need to know the line you want to write for and whether the emphasis is on internal or external conflict. So if you're writing single title, external might predominate, but if you're writing category romance aimed at Mills & Boon your focus should be on internal conflict, and if you're targeting a romantic suspense line, you'll need to find a fine balance between the two.

But do you understand the difference?

Disney's "Beauty and the Beast" provides the perfect example.
* Spoiler alert below *

Pretty Belle is a dreamer, a hopeless romantic. Gaston, the town's most eligible - and most self-centred - bachelor, decides that he wants Belle as his wife. Meanwhile, living alone in a nearby castle, is the Beast, a prince transfigured by an enchantress because of his selfishness and his inability to love. The spell will only be broken when he learns to love and is loved in return. But as the years pass and no-one can see past his hideousness, the Beast grows more angry and more reclusive.

Belle and the Beast are thrown together (watch the movie for the details I'm skipping over). Slowly, despite the obvious obstacles, they become friends and attraction grows between them. She learns to see past his hideous face to the man within and he learns to control his anger and find hope and joy once again.

Just as it seems they are going to come together, Belle looks in a magic mirror and sees that her father is ill and needs help. The Beast lets her go, even though he knows it means giving up his only chance to break the spell and transform back into a prince.

In trying to help her father, Belle tells the townsfolk about the Beast. Led by the jealous Gaston, the townsfolk storm the Beast's castle. The Beast is injured in the fight and Belle finds him. She reveals her love for him in his dying moments and so he is saved and transformed back into a handsome prince. Happy Ever After.

Now the external conflict is clear: the enchantress' spell, her father's illness, Gaston's jealousy, the excited mob. A certain amount of external conflict is always necessary, but it is the less obvious internal conflicts that add depth to any story and which keep the reader hooked.

Internal conflict stems from who they are as people, their beliefs, their experiences. In Belle's case, this is her romantic idealism. She dreams of living the fantasy she reads about, and yearns for a hero like those in her books. She knows she doesn't want Gaston, but she still has to learn to look beneath the Beast's hideous features to love the man within.

In the Beast's case, he needs to learn to love and to put someone else's needs above his own.

Even when all the external conflicts have been resolved, and the battle with the townsfolk has been won, Belle and her Beast cannot find their Happy Ever After without overcoming their own prejudices and issues. And it is important that they are the only ones who can help each other overcome these issues. No-one else but Belle can draw the Beast out of the anger he has withdrawn into and bring him to the point where he is able to put her needs before his own. No-one but the Beast is able to show Belle that true beauty is within.

Having a clear idea of what your characters' conflicts are and how they're going to overcome them is the basis of your character arcs. In resolving their internal conflicts, your characters learn and grow. This gives them depth, makes them real people as opposed to two-dimensional characters, and makes your reader care about them.

Can you see how you can apply this in your own writing? Do you have any questions regarding internal and eternal conflict? Please feel free to leave a comment ...

Monday, December 14, 2009

Publishing as a business

Just how badly do you want to be a paid, professional writer?
If you are serious about being published, here are a few basic suggestions to follow:

1. Write! Don't just talk about it or plan how you're going to do it, or dream about the life you'll lead when you are published.

2. Write Regularly. Ask any published writer and they'll tell you that writing is about discipline way more than it is about inspiration. Don't wait for those rare moments when the muse strikes. Write every day, even if it is only an hour a day. Put yourself in the right place for the muse to come find you.

3. Develop your craft. Published writers often talk about how they never stop learning. For me, that's part of the fun of this journey toward publication, that I'm always learning new things. Never rest on your laurels; always keep improving your skills.

4. Treat this as a career, not as a hobby. This is more important than it sounds. You cannot expect other people (editors, agents etc) to take you seriously as a writer if you don't take yourself seriously.

5. Learn the business. Yes, you're an artist, but it still helps to know the business end of the industry you're trying to break into. And I don't just mean reading the types of books published by the publishers you're targeting (though that goes without saying). Learn about how royalties work, what trends are developing in publishing, which imprints are opening/closing, what the agents are saying on their blogs. Learn, learn, learn.

6. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, behave like a published writer. You can start small by printing business cards, starting a blog, developing a web presence. But even if you are not yet in the public eye, remember that everything you say and do in the public arena should be professional. In every correspondence with editors or agents, no matter how hurt or rejected you feel, stay courteous. In everything you do and say, be polite. And that includes Facebook. One day you plan to be a public icon - and you don't want to be remembered as a person who bad-mouthed a certain agent or editor or writer. You want to be remembered as that incredible writer who is also a really nice person. At least I do!

Is there anything else you can think of to add to this list? All comments welcome.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Kimani Romance

Kimani Romance is Harlequin's African-American imprint. The novels are quite rare here in South Africa, which is surprising considering our multi-ethnic society and the popularity of all things American, but for any of our blog readers who read Kimani novels and are interested in writing for them, you'll be interested to know that eHarlequin are running an editor pitch in January. Editor pitches are a fast track way of getting your work seen by an editor, though they do require a basic knowledge of on-line chatting.

For more information, check out the writing guidelines here, the editor podcast here, and books can be bought online here. Please note that the deadline for entries is 6th January 2010.