Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Reflecting the world we live in — Diversity in romance writing

Thoughts by Anthony Ehlers...

At RosaCon16, we wrapped up the weekend with a panel discussion on Diversity in Romance, with panelists Fiona Khan, Elaine Pillay, and myself, Anthony Ehlers. The session, moderated by Rebecca Crowley, was to be a brutally honest analysis of this often overlooked issue in the romance genre.

In the US, for example, we see a growing market and readership, one that reflects a multicultural demographic. Gay marriage and equality has also brought a new focus on same-sex relationships.  In India, we see a massively growing readership, and Fiona gave the popular Shiva Trilogy by Amish Tripathi as just one example.

Here in South Africa, our democracy has brought about an exciting melting pot of race, culture, and is seen by many as a cosmopolitan and international setting by many. We have an opportunity as South Africans, and those that have made South Africa their home, to write our unique and fascinating love stories – whether they’re historical, contemporary, or futuristic.

So where are the stories – and authors – that showcase this diversity?

There are barriers to crossing the diversity divide, from a lack of empowering writers and fostering new talent to not enough platforms for emerging writers. Often cost is a barrier to entry – as emerging or new markets don’t have the same income as established demographics.

However, editors, agents, and publishers are waking up to the need for a more diverse romance genre. It has become a commercial imperative to change the way they look at love stories in a rapidly changing world – otherwise their books won’t keep pace with their readership. Readers want to see themselves reflected in the stories they read – whether it’s a reflection of race, sexuality, culture or even just a setting they know as home.
As writers who are passionate about writing love stories, we must look beyond the entrenched archetypes of the past and find ways to show the world we live in right now – and reflect the diversity we see in our communities, our families, the workplace, and our friends.  Be aware and open to the possibilities of characters and stories that shake up the status quo and rattle our complacency. Write about what excites us, yes, but also what challenges us.

Here are some useful links to other sites on diversity

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

#WriterTip Crafting and Creating Conflict in your Romance Novel

Romance Writers Organisation of SA

Erica Taylor, one of our ROSA members who attended #ROSACon16 and a session by Joss Wood on Conflict, has kindly shared her thoughts on the talk and what she learned.

What struck me most about Joss’ lecture on conflict was how much it made sense. It is probably something that we all do subconsciously without even realizing it, or having a literary definition attached to it, but having it defined made me more aware that it was another tool I had in my storytelling arsenal.  Joss tells us the way to tell a good story is make your characters go through crap—people don’t want smooth sailing and enduring love from the get-go. Readers want to be tortured with the characters, to hang on to the belief that love will conquer all, and to ride the happily-ever-after high into the tediousness of real life.

Using excerpts from one of her own novels, The Honeymoon Arrangement, Joss toured the lecture through the process of setting up conflict and using it as a tool to move the story along. 

Characters should have a “misguided external goal based on an internal goal,” or what the character thinks they want (point A) versus what that actually need (point B. Throughout the story, your characters will work through the conflicts you put in their path, getting them from point A to point B. 

Characters start off as silly little things thinking they know everything in their perfect little worlds and they have everything figured out. Ha! Little did they know the author of their story is about to shake up their world and they will be better for it, and their author will torture them until they come to realize, the author was right all along.

Joss explained there are two types of conflict: External conflict is the stuff happening around your characters. Internal conflict is the stuff happening inside the characters mind, their thoughts and worries and whatnot. And each character is different—whatever he/she wants must be specific to him or her.

“If your hero is a firefighter, your heroine better be an arsonist.” - Joss Wood

Three types of External Conflict:
  • Character vs. character (When opposite personalities attract—and clash)
  • Character vs. nature (When a hero faces an earthquake)
  • Character vs. Society (When a Lord falls in love with a maid)

Ways to up the conflict:
  • Use the characters fears again them.
  • Concoct the worst thing that could happen to them, then torture them with it.
  • Dig deep. Look back to their childhood—an author is part storyteller, part psychiatrist.
  • Find that thing that sends them off the deep end, and use it!

An example from Joss’ novel The Honeymoon Arrangement:
Internal: What are their deepest wounds and what scares them the most?
The heroine has deep rooted issues with her estranged mother.
External: Make that thing happen>>>>Mom calls her on the phone and sends the heroine spiraling into self-destruct mode.

What was most interesting about what Joss’ lecture, was how natural it seemed. Even in our everyday lives things pop-up that question our internal resolve. Challenges arise, things happen and the external conflicts we deal with each day have shaped who we are and dictate our internal conflicts. Readers read romance as a means of escape, searching for a trace of hope that no matter what happens in our lives, there is someone who will love us for who we are. As writers, we achieve the same escapism when we create this insurmountable problems for our characters and find a way to achieve their happily-ever-afters. 

We need to believe in the power of love just as much as the reader. We need to believe that no matter what life throws at us, everything will be okay. Writing conflict into your story not only moves the narrative along in a tangible, believable way, it adds a sense of realism to the story. Readers will relate to a flawed character, one who harbors secrets and refrains from letting their crazy hang out for the world to see, and when there is someone who can overlook their flaws, we want to hang on to that person even tighter. We root for someone to overcome the mundane conflicts in their life, because we all need to believe we can do it too.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

The Tipping Point: Creating Sensual Tension in Scenes

Fellow ROSA member Anthony Ehlers shared some useful tips for creating sensual tension in scenes at ROSACon 2016. Here's what he had to say.

"In my workshop on writing scenes at ROSACon 2016, I spoke about the need to build sensual and emotional tension in each scene. This is probably the real reason readers come to romance novels – whether they’re erotic or sweet, modern or historical. That’s why it’s so important to keep the reader in mind when you’re writing a scene."

Top Tips for Creating Sensual Tension
  • ·        Don’t bog the scene down in plot – give just enough to keep the story going.
  • ·   Focus on the developing relationship between the characters – play on their fears, vulnerabilities, etc.
  • ·        Use as many of the senses as possible – touch, taste, smell, sound, sight.
  • ·       Sometimes you don’t need a lot of dialogue – wordless tension and a sense of mystery can work well.
  • ·      And most of all, slow down: don’t hurry the scene and you’ll keep the tension drawn out.

 A lesson from the pro's

image credit: abebooks.co.uk
Anthony says, "One my favourite Mills & Boon titles, the classic 70s Leopard in the Snow by Anne Mather, makes imaginative use of the timeless Beauty & the Beast theme. Helen, our heroine, is trapped by a snow storm at the country retreat of Dominic, a racing car driver the world believes has died in a crash. And because she knows his identity, he forbids her to leave!

In one of the most memorable scenes, Helen sneaks down into the basement of the house where a naked Dominic lies prone in a sauna room. He is expecting his manservant, Bolt, to administer his afternoon massage to his damaged body – instead Helen creeps in and starts to touch him. The tension here is off the charts. Will he discover it’s not Bolt? How will react to Helen seeing his vulnerable body? 
image credit: goodreads.com

In Jane Porter’s awesome Modern/Presents title, Christos’s Promise, Alysia has been secluded in a convent and is rescued by wealthy Greek magnate, Christos. Theirs will not be a marriage of convenience, he declares, and while he will never force her into intimacy, they will share a bed.

On their honeymoon yacht, Alysia lies awake while her new husband slips into bed beside her. As he falls asleep, he cradles her and becomes aroused. The tension between the natural state of sleep of Christos and the hyper-awareness of his bride make this one of the most breath-stealing scenes in romance fiction – even 15 years after reading it!"

What are some of the amazingly sensual tension scenes you’ve read or written?

image credit: bookslive.com
Anthony Ehlers is a writer, scriptwriter and creative writing teacher. In 2014, his scripts were shortlisted for the Jameson First Shot competition, as well as the European Independent Film Festival. In 2010, his story “Limerence” was a runner-up in the annual Woman & Home short story competition. He is one of only two authors to appear in the first two Short.Sharp.Stories collections. His story Breaking the Rules was published in the Adults Only collection in 2014.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

The Joy of Comfort Eating by Suzanne Jefferies scoops Imbali Award at ROSACon 2016

Suzanne Jefferies wins Romance Writers of South Africa's Imbali Award 2016
Suzanne Jefferies with her Imbali Award for her book The Joy of Comfort Eating

Anthony Ehlers chatted to Suzanne shortly after she won ROSA's Imbali Writing Competition. Her entry The Joy of Comfort Eating swooped the trophy at a gala dinner held in Johannesburg 17 September 2016. Joanne Mcgregor with her book Scarred was the runner up.

Congratulations on your win! Your novel, The Joy of Comfort Eating, scooped the first-ever Imabli Award at ROSACon 2016.  Describe the experience in five words.

SJ: “High-fives all round. Yeah.”

At your book launch last week, you mentioned that Joy was part of a trilogy? Can you tell us a bit about that?

SJ “The Joy trilogy focuses on three contemporary Jo’burg heroines – each one sassy and fabulous, but totally useless when it comes to love. The next in the series focuses on Charlie’s sister Madge.”

We love that your heroine, Charlie Everson, is so sassy and so real. How important is it to have a character readers can relate to, especially from a South African point of view?

SJ: “Readers want to be able to identify with the heroine. We all want some version of happy-ever-after, and we want to feel that if she could climb Everest/land that multinational deal/bring that billionaire playboy to his knees, then so could we. For South Africans, I love reading something that’s set somewhere I can actually visit without having to dust off my passport.”

Your novel explores the trope of ‘shared pasts’ in that Brian ‘Bad Ass’ Tendai was Charlie’s teen crush and first love. Did you have any embarrassing celeb teen crushes you can admit to?

SJ: “Timothy Dalton. Age thirteen, we had to watch the BBC version of Jane Eyre, and he was Rochester in all of his vain, proud glory. That voice, those eyes, that dimple in his chin. Drool. Drool. I’d have watched Penny Dreadful a whole lot sooner if someone had mentioned he was in it.”

Charlie works in media, PR, and communications – much like you. What other characteristics does she share with you?

SJ: “Indecent love of cake. That stuff is legalised crack!”

What gets you through a writing day? Any set rituals?

SJ: “Switching on the laptop is usually a good start. Good cup of tea. Radio on in the background.”

In closing, what do you think the Imbali Award means for the broader SA romance writing community?

SJ: “A wonderful opportunity to be acknowledged and recognised for your writing by the community. I hope it encourages more people to enter, and more importantly, more people to write romance.”

Suzanne's book The Joy of Comfort Eating is published by Fire Quill Publishing (currently open for submissions at the time of this post) and is available on Amazon here  ($3.99 for the kindle edition).

If you are a romance writer looking for a sense of community, why not become a member of ROSA? Click here