Evangeline Holland

Sweeping Drama ⚜ Larger than Life History ⚜ Exquisite Romance ⚜ Diverse Perspectives
March 28th, 2013

Writing In The Here and Now

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

A good book is essentially about action, whether it be the heart-pounding type of The Da Vinci Code or the subtly-wound type of Gone Girl, or even how and when the protagonists are going to reach their HEA moment. Though it’s easy to think action=murder, explosions, whodunnit, sex, war, death, etc, action is also part of characterization–why does a mousy, conscientious librarian waive the overdue fine of a handsome, mysterious stranger? How does she react to her decision, and what comes of it?

Mine Is The Night is probably the first truly character-driven book I’ve ever written. My past MSS have been quite plotty, wherein I would set up a bunch of characters and scenarios and let them scatter across the place like marbles until they braided back into one another at the end. The novels ended up slighty episodic–rather TV series like–but with such a large cast of characters, as well as a lengthy time-line in which to develop them all, I could hold things back, tease secrets for a little while, and play the action with a sleight of hand.

This MS on the other hand takes place over a period of ten days and is all about my protagonists, Huw and Leonore. Since I’d grown accustomed to having lots of room in which to play with various characters, conflicts, and plots, whenever I experienced an Ah Ha! moment for my protagonists, I was tempted to save it for later in the book–or for the next book in the series. During my attempts to hold onto plot twists and character revealing moments, I would meander from the main plot–Romance Writing Don’t 101!–and accidentally set up dynamics that muddled with the characters and the plot. Quite frankly, I also bored myself, and if I’m bored, everyone else is going to be bored.

When I caught myself doing this for the umpteenth time, I just threw what I thought I should hide into my book, and what do you know: it ramped up the tension and conflict and it made my characters move, which in turn moved the plot. And my Ah Ha! moment was in finally understanding the mechanics of the character-driven novel. It also helped me see the pitfalls of writing connected books!

What about you? Plot-driven or character-driven author? Have you recently experienced an Ah Ha! moment in your writing? What are some of your favorite techniques for coaxing the book/characters into action?

January 28th, 2013

On Melodrama vs Drama and Downton Abbey

melo·dra·ma noun ˈme-lə-ˌdrä-mə, -ˌdra-

a work (as a movie or play) characterized by extravagant theatricality and by the predominance of plot and physical action over characterization

Merriam-Webster

dra·ma noun ˈdrä-mə, ˈdra-

a composition in verse or prose intended to portray life or character or to tell a story usually involving conflicts and emotions through action and dialogue and typically designed for theatrical performance.

Merriam-Webster

I am contemplating these two words as I write my Bledington Park trilogy and as I muse on Downton Abbey. Having watched all of season three as it unfolded in the UK, I can say that the “plot and physical action” has overtaken the characters by leaps and bounds. I gnash my teeth, grow frustrated, and roll my eyes over some of the implausibilities of certain plot twists (Matthew’s sudden windfall anyone? And sweet, selfless Lavinia somehow writing a letter on her deathbed absolving Matthew of his perfidy with Mary? Ha!), yet the method of Julian Fellowes’ madness–his sheer genius, in fact–is that he still manages to “portray[s] life [and] character” and “tell[s] a story…involving conflicts and emotions” within the over-the-top melodrama. The little moments, like Carson’s little song and dance over the positive report from Dr. Clarkson during Mrs. Hughes’ cancer scare, or Edith’s happiness over the hustle and bustle of Downton finally being all about her, or even Violet’s quips, all braid themselves together to make you care about the characters even when they’re being put through a contrived and hackneyed wringer.

Though Bledington Park is not a romance romance, that is the writing community I know best, and I must admit that sometimes the critical voices calling for more realism, more seriousness, more gravity, more anything that does not feed the stereotypes of romance readers as sex/man-starved, cat-owning, bon-bon eating repressed housewives and spinsters, can be smothering. Especially when I read books touted as flouting those stereotypes and conventions and find them too careful, too safe, too self-conscious (but perhaps my reaction is because I come to the books with the burden of “This is different!!! This is quality!!!”). I definitely like a bit of realism, a bit of gravity, and a bit of boundary-pushing in my romance reading, but I don’t want to give up the thrill of the drama–or perhaps even the melodrama–that takes my breath away, makes me teary-eyed, or makes me angry. So perhaps writers should not be shy of letting the plot take the characters for a ride, or worry about angering or frustrating readers, and perhaps you don’t always have to reinvent the wheel to write quality fiction–perhaps at the end of the day, our concern should always be with writing great, unforgettable characters.