How To Write a Novel: Part II (Characters)

Vintage Romance Novels

Vintage Romance Novels (Photo credit: Stewf)

Maybe I should have titled this post “How to Write a Romance” because I don’t know beans about other genres.  Regardless, every novel must have characters.  If you’re writing a romance, you must have at least two main characters that ignite when they’re together.

1) The fuel that ignites romance is a combination of passion and conflict.  You’ll have more combustion if the characters dislike each other in the beginning.  The romantic tension is even greater when the characters don’t know they’re attracted to one other until that “aha” moment arrives.  If you’re seen the movie EMMA, CLUELESS, or PRIDE AND PREJUDICE,  you know what I’m talking about.

2) No romance is complete without rivals. They stumble upon the stage of your imagination to  provoke your protagonists to jealousy. They must be alluring enough to pose a genuine threat.  He or she must be good-looking, intelligent, talented, well-educated, wealthy, above reproach, or all of the above.  Jealousy is essential to make a man (or woman) aware of the feelings that he (or she) has for the person that the author has chosen for “the prince in the tower” or “the damsel in distress” to fall in love with.

3) One rival per protagonist is not enough.  You need two or three at the most.  Like it or not, romance is a soap opera, and additional rivals thicken the plot.

4) How realistic should your characters be?  Personally, I like characters that are larger than life, and that’s why I read Victorian romances.    Let’s face it.  In real life, would “Mr. Darcy” fall head-over-heels for a woman beneath his station?  Probably not.  Gentry marries gentry.  But in fairy tales,  the handsome prince falls for the dirt-poor, beautiful orphan who resists his advances until the last-minute when she finally reveals her true feelings.  So why does she resist him in the first place?

The prince must have at least one detestable trait.  Perhaps he is rude, has a temper, or is a womanizer.  Such a flaw would cause any woman (at least a fictional one) to have second thoughts.

Nowadays, the damsel must be a scholar and/or have a career (preferably a career in the arts that doesn’t pay much–such as writing).  The prince should have money to burn, but now I’m showing my bias.

Stubbornness is a desirable trait in either protagonist.  It postpones the inevitable happy ending.

5) Minor characters are important.  My favorite characters in “Brideshead Revisited” are the minor ones.  They are funny and colorful.   A minor character can advance the plot by interrupting a tender moment, starting a rumor with no substance, or helping a doubting Thomas renew his faith.  The possibilities are endless.

For more information about my novel THE PRINCE IN THE TOWER click here.

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