The 12 Steps of Getting Over Yourself

by Christina Lay

I have a confession to make. I’ve completed 15 novels and novellas; some of them are even published. This does not include an indeterminate number of drawer novels, those hideous beasties who lurk forever in a state of suspended animation waiting for my fickle brain to become interested in them again. But they are important too, because they represent hundreds of hours of learning the hard way.

I’ve done a lot of hard-way learning. One would think that at this point I would have mastered the art of noveling—or as some people call it, “writing”—but the process of bringing a novel into the world is an ever-evolving, ever-elusive endeavor, and there is no end point, no graduation ceremony after which you will forever breeze through the process of writing like a mature, unruffled professional. No, writing is an exciting ride, a roller coaster of surprises, a minefield of potential failures, a vale of tears.

Recently, I did another dance with The Wall. You know. The one that stops you. This one stopped me for longer than usual. During this Winter of My Worst Novel Ever, I penned the following ripoff of the famous 12 Steps of Alcoholism Anonymous. May they come to your aid during your next Worst Novel Ever.

The 12 Steps of Getting Over Yourself and Finishing the Damn Novel

  1. Admitted we were powerless over the plot, and that our novel had become unmanageable
  2. Came to believe that a really good book on craft could restore us to sanity
  3. Made a decision to turn our plot and our characters over to the care of a workshop or writing group, and to try and utilize their critiques as we understood them
  4. Made a searching and analytical inventory of our novel
  5. Admitted to our muse, to ourselves, and to our writing group the exact nature of our screw-ups
  6. Were entirely ready to ruthlessly cut these defects of plot
  7. Humbly asked our writing group to help us
  8. Made a list of all the places we had gone wrong, and became willing to remove all of our adverbs
  9. Made direct cuts wherever possible, except when to do so would injure the story or character development
  10. Continued to take an honest inventory and when we went wrong, promptly corrected our course
  11. Sought through writing groups and workshops to improve our storytelling abilities as we understood them, gathering the knowledge of how to write and the caffeine to carry those ideas to fruition
  12. Having had an awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to others by participating in a writing group, leading workshops, writing articles, and by using what we learned in all our writing affairs

 

Paranormal Romance and Fantasy Romance Tropes by Sarina Dorie

This week on ShadowSpinners we welcome Sarina Dorie, creator of the popular series, Womby’s School for Wayward Witches.

 

Hades & Persephone: To the Underworld

 

Paranormal Romance and Fantasy Romance Tropes

 by Sarina Dorie

What is a trope?

A trope is a plot device. All genres have them. When done well, a trope feels natural and necessary to the plot. When it isn’t done well, it feels contrived or unoriginal. It isn’t that a trope is inherently bad, although some people are very opinionated about the ones they love or hate.

In every genre, readers expect them. In romance, the trope is generally the element that helps the hero and heroine meet or keeps them apart. The thing that makes a trope work is subverting the readers expectations so that the writing feels fresh and original.

 

What’s an example of a trope?

For example, one of the tropes of Romeo and Juliet (which is a love story, not a romance in case you didn’t realize it) is the idea of enemies to lovers or rival houses. This is the same trope in Westside Story. It’s used in many other movies, books, and television shows.

 

In Twilight, the idea is used with vampires versus werewolves with the protagonist being caught in the middle. After Twilight was published, this trope was used a lot in paranormal romance, specifically the rivalry of vampires versus werewolves. It became an easy (and sometimes lazy) way of creating conflict. For years every paranormal fantasy novel I picked up had rivalries between vampires and werewolves. Writers kept writing it because readers kept reading it.

But every plot was the same: He was a misunderstood vampire with a dark past. She was a werewerewolf/werebear/werepanther trying to avenge her clan. They were mortal enemies, but the only thing they could think about was each other.

 

The trope got old. The conflict felt contrived. People made fun of the genre. This is probably why What We Do in the Shadows worked so effectively. It subverted the viewer’s expectations. The vampire versus werewolf rivalry focused more on the bromance of the story. The actual love story/romance was the B plot (secondary plot) for one of the other characters. This B plot also explored tropes taken to their extreme. And of course, there was the unforgettable line from this movie “werewolves not swearwolves” that lives on in my memory forever.

 

What are examples of your favorite tropes?

That’s just me and my preferences. That trope of enemies to lovers or rival houses lives on in paranormal romance.  When done well, it doesn’t feel contrived, but there are other tropes that other people don’t like because of the execution. Some of my personal favorites that I use in my fantasy and science fiction romance novels are:

Beauty and the Beast

Fairy Tales

Enemies to Lovers

Love Triangles

Sassy heroine

Amnesia

Tragic past

Was it a lie? (disguise/undercover love)

Breaks her heart to save her

Noble rescuer steps in because she’s dating Mr. Wrong

 

Anyone who has ready my Womby’s School for Wayward Witches Series is going to recognize some of these. The first two tropes work especially well in the kind of fantasy and science fiction I write. Sometimes my monster/beast is the pretty human or an unassuming Prince Charming is the real beast. I already like fairy tales and fairy tale retellings, so fracturing a fairy tale worked well for me like in my novel WRATH OF THE TOOTH FAIRY coming out in the summer of 2019. Think about Shrek and why it did so well. The movie completely subverted our expectations.

 

How do you use a trope?

Everyone writes differently. I don’t usually set out to write a trope, it just happens. In the editing phase or partway through writing, I try to be aware of elements that might not be original and subvert expectations. If you are writing a horror novel, mystery, historical, thriller, etc. my favorite tropes might not be the tropes you and your audience are drawn to. Figure out what works for you.

 

How do you find tropes appropriate for your genre?

Do some research. A while back I found some lists of romance tropes. None of these are complete. There are more I find myself using that aren’t on these lists, but it gives you a starting point to think about.

145 Romance Tropes

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

All the Kissing’s Favorite Romance Tropes

https://allthekissing.com/2018/02/atk-romance-tropes/

Romance Tropes: What Words for Romance Readers

http://arghink.com/2015/10/romance-tropes-what-works-for-romance-readers/

Sarina Dorie has sold over 150 short stories to markets like Analog, Daily Science Fiction, Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, Orson Scott Card’s IGMS, Cosmos, and Abyss and Apex. Her stories and published novels have won humor contests and Romance Writer of America awards. She has over two dozen books available on Amazon including her steampunk romance series, The Memory Thiefand her collections of short stories like Fairies, Robots and Unicorns—Oh My!are available on Amazon, along with her series Womby’s School for Wayward Witches.

You can find info about Sarina Dorie’s short stories and novels on her website:

www.sarinadorie.com

The best way to stay in contact with Sarina Dorie, hear about what she is writing, know when she has a new release, or books offered for free on Amazon is by signing up for her newsletter.

https://mailchi.mp/sarinadorie/authornewsletter

 

 

Tarot and the Craft of Writing

By Cynthia Ray

The Tarot is a symbolical, archetypical, pictorial description of the way things work.  It is both personal and universal.  The Tarot also outlines the ins and outs of creating and writing a story, the experience of writing, and the required tools and competencies. There are 21 major trump and here I will briefly illustrate their connection to the creative process of the writer.

Tarot Keys 1-29-06 001 The Fool #0

0.  Writing a novel is a path that only a fool would begin, and only a fool could     complete.  The Fool is an androgynous figure setting out on the journey of creating a story and carries a bag of past experience to draw from. The dog represents the companion muse who will accompany this Fool on his/her journey, but the Fool has their attention upon the higher goal, not paying attention to the whopping big cliff s/he is about to step off of.  Here we go!

Tarot Keys 1-29-06 002 The Magician #1

  1. To begin anything, and especially a novel, one must have desire and will.  Almost like magic, what one chooses to focus on and put attention upon, fueled by desire, is that which grows, represented by the Magicians garden of roses and lilies.  Bringing focused attention and concentration to bear on the task is the gift of the Magician.  The writers’ tools sit upon the table.  The wand is will, the cup is imagination, the sword is action, while the coin represents the final form.   It will take a strong will, fueled by imagination to take the necessary actions to bring ideas into a completed story that is perfect and beautifully formed.

Tarot Keys 1-29-06 013 High Priestess #2

  1. The High Priestess is the door to the great subconscious, both the personal and the collective, universal subconscious that Jung speaks of, from which all ideas and inspirations arise. The water from her gown flows through all the cards, ever present, and informs, shapes and nourishes every word that pours from the writers’ pen.  The moons that crown her hair stand for the waxing and waning and rhythm of the creative process.  Expect ups and downs.

Tarot Keys 1-29-06 016 The Empress #3

  1. The pregnant Empress is the writers’ wonderful, weird, creative Imagination. She takes the tiny seeds planted by the Magician and brings forth a riot of form and ideas in her wild garden.  The mind of the writer produces many various and sundry ideas for the novel, many complex characters with which to people it, and revels in the pure audacity of the potential and possibilities.

Tarot Keys 1-29-06 017 The Emperor #4

  1. The Emperor stand for reason, order and form. Here the writer begins to organize potential plots into an outline, and even writers who are outline adverse, must conceive of an orderly progression of the story that will lead to a satisfactory conclusion.  The Emperor is associated with vision and sight, and every writer needs a coherent vision and line of sight to where the story is going, and how to get there.  The Emperor is a visionary map maker.

Tarot Keys 1-29-06 018 The Teacher #5

  1. The Teacher is the writers own inner voice. The key to this step is finding and listening to that voice.  Critique groups are helpful and necessary, advice from the well-known authors and craft books are a good foundation, and practice and study all lend themselves to mastery of the craft of writing, but the only true guide is the writers own unique VOICE that must come through the story, told in his or her own unique way.  The path to finding that voice is trial and error and ever-vigilant practice of listening.

Tarot Keys 1-29-06 019 The Lovers #6

  1. The letter Zain associated with this card means sword, and here the writer must begin the process of cutting away anything that does not lead the story forward. This cutting away requires a willingness to remove, without regret, whatever does not serve the higher purpose of the story.  The Lovers also stand for discrimination, which is related to the sense of smell.  The writer must sniff out the true core and essential elements of the story, versus the “fluff’, sometimes referred to as the writers’ “darlings”, that must be jettisoned.

Tarot Keys 1-29-06 020 The Chariot #7

  1. The Chariot stands for Victory, and the conquest of illusion. The war a writer wages is an inner struggle, wrestling with inner demons and voices that tell the writer they are not good enough, that the story is valueless, and to surrender, to give up. The Charioteer is our inner Self, who hold the reins of mind and emotions and leads us over a rough and difficult road to triumph over those illusions-a victory that allows the writer to continue on the quest, tapping into the desire and will.

Tarot Keys 1-29-06 021 Strength #8

  1. Strength of Purpose. This lion is not a docile, submissive force, but a wild and powerful energy that must be tamed and harnessed, and its power is the writers’ potential creativity.  This creativity must be channeled through the application of consistent, habitual effort.  Just as the physical body builds strength by the habit of daily exercise, consistent patterns and writing practices are required to produce meaningful results.  A strong writer is a consistent writer.  This process is represented by the many leaves and roses draped around the neck of the lion.  The infinity symbol shows that the work of writing is accomplished hour by hour, day by day, month by month, although ideas and inspirations arise outside of time.

Tarot Keys 1-29-06 022 The Hermit #9.jpg

  1. Writing is a solitary activity, and often feels like a solitary climb up a steep mountain. The writer must take time, and create space, to withdraw from the world and write. The Hermit stands alone on a dark mountain, showing the way, and represents all the writers that have gone before, accomplished a work, and all the wonderful stories that shine their light into the world.  The stories that inspired the writer to add to the treasures that we turn to when we are lost, when we are grieving, when we are curious.  The Hermit is also the writer her/himself at the end of every chapter, looking forward, looking back.

Tarot Keys 1-29-06 003 Wheel of Fortune #10

  1. The Wheel of Fortune is movement, rotation, involution and evolution. In this stage, the writer is  fully engaged  in the story as it evolves and changes and emerges from the mind of the writer.  The novel is on its way to manifesting through its many phases.  There are re-writes, and re-thinking of plot lines, and characters motivations.

Tarot Keys 1-29-06 004 Justice #11

  1. All the mistakes of plotting, character development, writing style will show up her to be judged and elements either found wanting, directed back for another spin of the wheel, or shown to be worthy.  Another meaning of this card is action, and for each action there is always an equal reaction – it is cause and effect.  Either the actions and descriptions and responses of the characters work or they don’t. Here the writer weighs her story on the scales, looking for wholeness in the way all of the parts fit together, assuring that the story is balanced, and that it draws the reader into its heart, and evokes response.  There is no punishment or damnation this analytical weighing of the story and its parts.  It is time once again to use the sword of discernment that we first took up in the Lovers card, only at a higher level.

Tarot Keys 1-29-06 005 Suspended Man #12

  1. The state associated with the Hanged Man or Suspended Man is Silence. All previous ways of thinking are suspended in this quietness as we pause and leave judgement behind.  In this suspension of judgement and everything the writer thought about the book before, there is clarity.  Clarity of the deeper themes, purposes and connections that lift the writer up out of the words on the pages in order to see, feel, and know the soul of the book.

Tarot Keys 1-29-06 006 Transition #13

  1. The real meaning of Transition (Death) is change, motion and transformation. The end of one cycle is the beginning of another.  The revelations, new connections and ideas that were revealed in the suspended state lead the writer to further transformation of the book.  It might mean that the writer rearranges major parts of the novel, or even starts over but is ultimately able to bring their story to completion.  With a completed first draft in hand, the writer has indeed accomplished much, which has brought him/her to bare bones of themselves, poured out into the chapters.

Tarot Keys 1-29-06 007 Temperance #14.jpg

  1. Metal is tempered with fire and water, to make it stronger. Here, testing and trials prove the worth of the writers’ words and insights bring further refinements.  There are many ways to test the and temper the book; beta readers, critique groups and the necessary and helpful editor.

Tarot Keys 1-29-06 008 The Deceiver #15

  1. The Deceiver (Devil) is a form of self-doubt, and the inner voices which bedevil the writer with half-truths, deceptions and lies. The same inner demons and illusions were faced earlier, but they return as the writer begins to receive feedback from editors and readers.  If the writer turns their attention and locus outward, instead of following their own inner compass they will find themselves lost and unable to move forward.  The figures in the card have chains around their necks, but when they choose to, they can simply lift them off and walk away from their self-imposed bondage.

Tarot Keys 1-29-06 009 The Tower #16

  1. The flash of lightening that strikes the Tower comes from the Hermits Lantern, bringing inspiration that topple old ideas and concepts. The toppled figures are also the inner demons of the previous card, which are vanquished by the flash of truth and dispelling of illusion. The card is associated with Awakening and exciting intelligence.  The writer experiences the excitement of discovering a hidden theme, or a new way of expressing an idea, the discovery of a vein to mine in the book that was previously hidden, and heady freedom from the chains of the past.

Tarot Keys 1-29-06 010 The Star #17

  1. The Star is linked with Meditation and Revelation. At this point, after many iterations, the writer is working on a final draft of their book.  The book is part of the writer’s consciousness and both the conscious and subconscious are working on it day and night.  Even when the writer is not writing, the work continues to percolate, and in the rest, the in-between times, even in sleep, gifts of insight are given.

Tarot Keys 1-29-06 011 The Moon #18

  1. The Moon represents Organization. Organization has been at play all along as the story unfolded, but now the final changes to the book are made. The Moon also represents rhythm and cycles, and the ups and downs that are always at play in the writing process.   The final version of the book is nearly complete.

Tarot Keys 1-29-06 012 The Sun #19

  1. The Sun shines it light upon the writer here. The intelligence associated with the Sun is Collective intelligence, which mean to bring together, to combine to unify and synthesize. It brings all the lessons of all the cards together in this final form. The writer experiences joy and satisfaction as the book is brought to conclusion.  There should be dancing.

Tarot Keys 1-29-06 014 Judgement #20.jpg

  1. Judgement implies completion, termination. Here the final edits are made in preparation for publication and all is made ready for the books release into the world.

Tarot Keys 1-29-06 015 The World #21.jpg

  1. Publication! At last the book enters the World as a published book!  The letter of this card means signature, and the story and its unique signature takes its place among all of the stories that have been told, to enter the mind and hearts of mankind.  There may be tours and promotions and blogs, but eventually the journey begins again as the writer sets pen to the next volume.

 

For those interested in delving into the deeper meanings of the Tarot, you may be interested in my ongoing virtual classes on the topic.  Find out more here:

This website is also a great resource for exploring more about the Tarot.

 

When Your Novels Sucks And You Stick it in a Drawer

By Lisa Alber

I happened to see this question posted on Facebook recently:

For those of you who have novel manuscripts that you put away because they weren’t working (i.e. they sucked), what were the problems that you noticed in those drafts?

Normally, I don’t go in for pseudo-survey conversational gambits like this. My interest that day might have had something to do with the drawer novel that I periodically pull out and then shove back in the drawer. It might also have had something to do with my work-in-progress, which almost landed in the same drawer a dozen times last year.

Interestingly, most of the responses fell into the following categories:

  • Not enough plot: Lack of forward momentum. Episodic scenes with protagonists on the road to nowhere. (Thank you, Talking Heads.) Conflict and goals and obstacles and stakes apparently sidelined.
  • Passive protagonist (often linked to plotlessness): Characters with not enough to do. Too much rumination and thinking, not enough movement. Reactive rather than proactive.
  • Too much plot: Bigger plot than you know what to do with. Situation so complex you can’t write your way out of it. Too many subplots.
  • You don’t know but it’s off: No matter what you do, it doesn’t feel right. (This one’s a toughy.)

The responses got me thinking about my drawer novel and my novel in progress.

My drawer novel is a case of too much plot and my inability to let some of it go. I know! I drive myself nuts sometimes. I’ve noodled every which way with the parallel plot line (I love a good parallel plot line), but it’s too much. The entire thing’s gotta be re-jiggered into one storyline … Next time. Or maybe never. Maybe that was my practice novel … (but I can’t quite let it go!)

My work-in-progress also contains a parallel plot line — heh — but I’m more skilled than I was when I wrote the drawer novel. Nevertheless, something was off.

Head. Wall. Ouch. Repeat.

I was suffering from a case of I-don’t-know-but-it’s-off. My solution was to think bigger picture: voice and perspective. I engaged in a thought experiment in which I imagined the story from some other character’s point of view, and imagined it told in first person instead of third (or vice versa). In my case, this was enough to rock my world and a-ha myself out of my stuckness.

Whew! Massive rewrite, to be sure, however, at long last I’m back to having fun with the story. Which, it seems to me, is the ultimate barometer. If, no matter what you do, you keep not having fun with a novel, let it go.

The last pattern I noticed in the Facebook responses was that the bullish attitudes about manuscript problems tended to come from the more experienced writers; these were problems they’d yet to solve, that was all. Most stories are salvageable, but it may take a few (or more, probably more) years of craft experience to learn the art of the salvage.

Oh, and don’t forget your friendly neighborhood beta readers and brainstorming partners. They save me all the time.

Point of View, Perception and Values: How to Create Conflict Without Really Trying

by Christina Lay

You may have noticed that we live in divisive times.  The gulf between opposing points of view seems to be widening every day. People who hold extreme views are becoming more extreme. Middle-of-the-roaders are held in contempt.  Allies turn on each other for not being righteous enough. Opponents dig in their heels, become intractable. Fresh arguments break out every day and when we, as observers, try to make sense out of what is happening, we are told that Facts don’t matter, truth doesn’t exist, science is fake, and that we can’t believe what we read, what we see, or what we hear.

Pretty fun stuff, eh? I often find myself with a headache, a touch of nausea and an overwhelming sense of frustration.  Luckily, I have the refuge of fiction. I escape into a world where I’m in control, where I know what the truth is and I know who the bad guys are. I can exist in this simple world of my own making for a long time; it is balm to my soul.

But then reality begins to creep back in, with its confusions and complications. And that’s okay, because nobody wants to read my fairy tales where nothing very bad ever happens. Readers, for whatever bizarre psychological reason, want conflict. They want the strife I am seeking to escape. They want danger, intrigue, a plot. Go figure.

And so I reluctantly take a closer look at the world around me. Sheesh, what a mess. But what a great time to study and learn about conflict!  Complicated conflict. Conflict between well-meaning, intelligent people. Many works of genre fiction rely on simple forms of conflict.  There is a bad guy, or force, or malevolent power afoot in the universe. In thrillers, it might be a corrupt foreign power, in mysteries, a murderer, in fantasy, an evil wizard bent on controlling the world and killing all the pretty unicorns.  It’s not too hard to create a villain who is so loathsome and evil that readers will cheer when your protagonist shoots him in the face. Or lops her head off.

Although great fun, this is not the kind of conflict I’m talking about now. Because in the end, the super villain tends to be a superficial character, and the plot, with all its twists and turns, is ultimately predictable. Because if you let your hero die and the despicable villain you’ve created win, your readers will want to shoot you in the face. I know. As a reader, I’ve been there.

I mostly read genre fiction, and often find myself more interested in the twists and turns of the hero’s other relationships. The friends, allies, mentors, co-workers, parents, children, who can all become, if not villains, antagonists of the most interesting sort.

And at last I reach my point: how friends, allies, parents, siblings, can become the most interesting antagonists without having to kill a single a person. They might even be good people. The hero might love or be in love with them. And yet these antagonists can be believable and diametrically opposed to the hero on some point of such import that they become the main obstacle to the hero’s success and the satisfying ending your reader craves.

Truth is slippery. If there is one thing to learn from reality today, it’s that facts can be hidden, misinterpreted, ignored. The interpretation of an event can be determined simply by where one is standing. “I heard that man shouting sexist insults!” “Well, I saw that woman whack a man on the head with her Love Always Wins sign!” “They were the aggressor.” “No, that group started it”. “The police were being needlessly brutal.” “No, the perpetrator had a gun.”  It is easy to see how two friends, experiencing an event from different locations, could come away with very different feelings. One might feel the need for action, or revenge, while the other does not.

Beyond the immediate physical view point, there is of course the viewpoint that comes from economic status, regional and racial outlook, religious upbringing, relative health or dysfunction of the birth family and so on. It pays to do a little homework, a little world-building, in order give your main characters diverse backgrounds or life experiences, especially from those closest to them. Honoring diversity in your fiction as well as your life can add so much richness to your stories.

Another way to create instant conflict between people with the same values is to give them different ideas about how to protect those values. Take traditional family values versus women’s rights.  One doesn’t have to be a super villain to believe that families are healthier when the woman stays home to raise the kids, but if that person is your progressive protagonist’s new husband, watch out.

I’m sure I’m not telling you anything you don’t know, but I’ve personally found it eye-opening to look at all this conflict around me through the lens of character development and plotting. It doesn’t hurt that incorporating the frustrations of the world into a work of fiction can be, not only informative, but somehow healing. As my characters work through their perceived differences, I can see how there might be hope for all of us to stop being each other’s antagonists.

HEA vs. Suspense: How To Keep Your Readers Nervous

by Christina Lay

I recently took part in a conversation among writers in which the question was asked “How can you create suspense in a romance novel when everyone knows the two main characters will end up together?” One answer offered was along the lines that suspense in romance is always built on a misunderstanding that drives a wedge between the characters, leaving the reader to wonder if they’ll ever be able to overcome the damage done. I protested, saying, well, that’s one hoary old device, which sometimes works, but in a good romance novel, there’s much more going on, and so many possibilities, just like in any other type of fiction.

I should point out that The Misunderstanding isn’t necessarily bad. After all, misunderstandings happen in real life all the time. In this age of communication, we seem to communicate successfully less and less, especially when texting is the preferred method. The most important thing to remember is to make whatever happens a believable, and not annoying, occurrence. The Misunderstanding should not make your characters look stupid, petty, or hysterical, unless you’re writing a comedy, and even then, make sure it doesn’t just make your reader despise your hero. And, if The Misunderstanding could be cleared up with one question, like “Did you really sleep with my sister?”, then you’d better make Damn Sure your character has an excellent reason for not asking the question.

One complicated doohickey

But really, The Misunderstanding is just one device that writers might use to drive a wedge between their would-be lovers. Whatever serves to keep the romantic interests apart helps to create suspense.  It may or may not be crucial to the plot. In a light romance, or comedy, The Wedge might be a lie told by a jealous rival, a piece of conversation heard out of context, or a meaning ascribed to an action that wasn’t intended. It is also possible for two intelligent, rational people to have entirely different perceptions of an event or conversation. In budding romances in particular, this can work, because it’s such a sensitive and vulnerable time, but again, make sure the motivations and reactions of the characters are believable and not insipid.

In a more serious romance, suspense is created by giving the characters motivations or values that are at odds. The police woman who falls for a possible crook. The betrothed king who falls for a landless nobody. The democrat who falls for a republican, and so on. The question then revolves around whether their love is strong enough to overcome the difference, or if they’re doomed to failure.  If you really want to up the odds, you’ll give the characters friends and family who are also in opposition to the lover’s values/family/job/quest. Then romantic love is pitted against familial love, or tribe loyalty, or an oath sworn to a vengeful god. The more pressure you can put on the two lovers to stay apart, the better. But then, of course, you’ll need to make their passion for each other greater and more compelling than the value/family/tribe/quest they are putting at risk.

A great way to make readers fidget is to make them unsure of what is of greater importance: the cause or the lover? Make them seriously doubt if there is any way the two can exist in the same world. Make the future of their love look bleak, maybe impossible.

Suspense depends on how great the stakes are in your story. Not all romance has to be about The Wedge. It is possible that the lovers are together, deeply in love, and it’s the outside world that is threatening their bliss. One might be in physical peril and the other must risk all to save them. One might be called to sacrifice something important in order for the other to achieve a dream. Maybe they are an interracial couple moving to an intolerant community, or a gay couple being threatened with the loss of job, status, familial acceptance.

Now, you might be thinking, but it’s a romance, of course they’ll work it out, no matter what IT is. Usually, readers of romance do like their HEA (Happily Ever After), but not all romances end that way. Even when they do, there’s no reason at all to think they lack suspense. Suspense can come from many and all quarters, and if done right, will force the characters to face their fears, their weaknesses, even their possibly misplaced desires, and either grow and triumph, or fail, miserable and alone (MAA is nota recommended ending, but still possible).

When you pick up a mystery, you pretty much know the detective is going to solve the crime and probably not die. You get wrapped up in the personal life of the main character(s) as you get nervous about whether or not the killer might strike again, and maybe even you start to worry the detective will end up a victim after all. Likewise, in a romance, you’re pretty sure the main characters will end up together, but along the way, you get involved in the challenges they face, the sacrifices they might have to make, and hopefully, you get nervous about whether or not they will be able to work things out.

A hard fought love scene is truly a wonderful thing. That’s one reason I enjoy writing the enemies-to-lovers trope. So many reasons for them not to get together and yet, they can’t live without each other. Such a dilemma. Such juicy territory for the writer. When are we more vulnerable than when in love? When most likely to risk all? A character in love lives in suspense, every minute they are not with their true love. And most of us can relate to relate to that kind of separation anxiety, even if it is all due to a terrible misunderstanding.

 

Paper Clip by John Burridge

Today on ShadowSpinners we welcome John Burridge, who brings us a tale of mystery, inspiration, and not-so-ordinary objects.

I linger outside the supermarket where I sometimes write.  The hot sky is the color of ash, as if someone has smeared the remains of a BBQ pit across heaven.  The breeze makes it seem like the grey smudge above hides rain, but the forecast is for heat and an insulating inversion.  I’m tempted to make this a drinking night–the day’s been frustrating–but I opt to try to write instead.  A cold blast of air-conditioning hits my face as I walk inside.  

I stalk through the aisles, try to find something that will inspire me to write, purchase some healthy-ish snacks, then head upstairs.  The table I normally write at in the supermarket’s mezzanine is occupied by an older lady with the props of homelessness:  an over-burdened cart, which might have been an IV rack in a past life, its thick grey wheels signaling that it’s possibly from a hospital or nursing home, with full, plastic rival-market shopping bags hanging from it.

I cast about the mezzanine and end up at another table; like all the others, it’s a cool, dark, and highly polished sheet of marble or artisanal concrete, flecked with mica glinting like stars.

I set up my tablet, plug in headphones against the inevitable wailing children, cell-phone-using psychiatry patients, and estranged roommates.  I type–hoping that this time the words will flow like a spring in an oasis; like the aurora borealis at midnight; like a pod of dolphins dancing among the waves; like lover’s kisses along the nape, around the hollow of the neck, and over those places loved best.

Instead, I write ten or so lines of bad Oscar Wilde pastiche and maybe three lines about the Prince of Lyres standing over splinters of his instrument in front of the still locked gates of the underworld.  Gee, thanks, subconscious.  Tell me something I don’t already know.

Then the children, their mothers, the cell-phone users, and irked roommates parade by my foreign workspace–each one stomping the floor in just the right place to make my borrowed workspace tremble.  This would never happen at my regular table, which is not on the path to the market’s restrooms.

The old woman–pushing her cart before her–joins the parade, makes for the elevator, and exits the mezzanine.

By this time, I’m thinking this isn’t going to be a good writing night and I should just go meet up with my ex-critique group for a drink–but, it’s still early, and, actually, I should be saving my money.  A math tutoring session at the next table over decides me that if I’m going to not-write doggerel, I may as well do it in a better setting.  Besides, an attendant with antiseptic spray and cleaning rag has swooped over the vacated tables.  I scoop up snacks, pack, tablet, and keyboard, and I walk–headphones still on–to my regular spot.

I get to the table and there in the dark-sky-and-mica-star center of it is a paperclip.  Which slaps me back in time.  Weeks ago last June, at an elder-stateswoman-writer’s memorial, someone told a story about paperclips.  A few days before the writer died, the story-teller (an atheist) and the writer were joking around about supposed afterlives and randomly came up with the word “paperclip” as the message the writer would send as proof if she found herself in heaven.  The day after, the story-teller, in a moment of synchronicity, inexplicably found two paperclips–which he presented to the memorial gathering–linked, in his pocket.

I pick up this singleton paperclip.  It’s steel or some other silvery metal, with little grooves worked into the loops for extra gripping friction.

What meaning does one assign a paperclip–which may have been left behind by an elderly and possibly homeless woman when she left, pushing her belongings and errands out into the hot evening with a setting sun hidden by smoke and ash?

Paperclips hold pages together–paper planes which touch but do not connect.  Maybe the paperclip says, “Hold together;” but hold what?  There’s nothing currently in it more substantial than thought.

I rotate the paperclip in my fingers.  It’s not perfectly flat.  The inner loop of metal is pulled up slightly from the outer loop.  At one point it held together something–a manuscript? a prescription and receipt? a photo and resume?–but holding whatever together has warped it.

I put it down next to my keyboard and stare at it as I type.

Is the shade of a great writer leaving me a paperclip as a sign of encouragement?  Or, is it a reward for sitting with butt in chair and fingers on keyboard instead of slouching against a tavern table with a margarita in my hand?  Or, is it a challenge–write the story this empty paperclip will have to hold together?  Or, is it a message–the writer connects meanings to the actions in the text?  Yeah, right.  “Don’t lose the day job,” would be a more likely message, and I imagine she’d have better uses for manifesting paperclips, like leaving them for her family or people she’d known much longer than our two years’ acquaintance.  Or her agent.

I write all this while staring at the paperclip.  It’s getting late.  Maybe tonight I’ll dream about paperclips.  Maybe I’ll make a shirt that says, “My writer friend went to heaven and all I got was this paperclip.”  Maybe I’ll write a fantasy story about a magician who makes a talisman of paperclips linked together into a necklace:  every paperclip a star, every star a soul, every soul a story.

***

John Burridge writes short stories in the high fantasy, science fiction, and contemporary urban fantasy genres.  His work explores familial relationships, choice, and identity.  A native Oregonian, John lives with his husband, son, and two requisite cats (one fluffy and grey, the other sleek and black).

John is an alumni of the Eugene Wordos, a professional writer’s critique group.  He was an active member from 2001 to 2017, and he chaired or co-chaired their meetings from 2003 onward.

His first professional sale was to Writers of the Future.  Since then, he has garnered a few other sales and many, many rejection slips.  You can read more about him and his publishing history at https://johnburridge.blogspot.com/p/bio-writing-credits.html.