Grace's Mosaic Moments

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Character Development - 2

A bit of family promotion to add color to this week's Mosaic Moments. The link below will take you to a family member's e-bay site which features a wide variety of interesting items, including some hand-crocheted dresses & hats for 18" dolls (which, ahem, were made by me).

Beckatastic Treasures 

PC Update:  Continuing my showcase of remarks illustrating the concept that even something as well-intentioned as "politically correct" can go too far, please investigate the link below, which reports the remarks of a college president who had been pushed too far.

College not a day-care 

Character Development
Marriages of Convenience

Okay, I admit it, even when writing Mystery, Suspense, or SyFy, I always have a romance in my books. And of course they all have to end in Happily Ever After, however unrealistic some may believe that to be. After all, isn't that why so many read romance? We need that Happily Ever After, even if it's only fiction. It makes our hearts beat faster. It makes us smile. It makes us glow.
But getting that HEA cannot be easy. That's a cardinal rule of writing romance. The hero and heroine have to suffer. It all has to go to hell in a handbasket (as the old saying goes) before that HEA comes on the final pages. 

Another rule: no matter how much action you have in your book, the romance gets resolved last. Your readers may know they're going to get a happy ending, but you still have to make them think it might not happen. There's a wonderful expression for what all fiction writers do, the thing that allows us to get away with so very much: Suspended Disbelief. We have to craft our work well enough that our readers are willing to go along with our plot and action, even when they strain credulity.

One of the trickiest bits of Character Development involves marriages of convenience. 

Grace Note: A moment's digression: a Marriage of Convenience is not a marriage without sex. That's what the French call, "mariage blanc," or "white marriage." A Marriage of Convenience is a marriage in which two people marry for reasons of family, money, common sense, etc. Sometimes neither couple is particularly fond of the other. In some cases one of the couples may actually love the other but his/her affection is unrequited. But sex is definitely involved, no matter if the two people are near strangers. Clearly, this can create some interesting, if awkward, scenes, as I once again discovered when writing The Welshman's Bride.

So how do you create a romance between two people who are marrying for what some of my readers would consider all the wrong reasons?

I should be able to answer that, as at least nine of my books (including Sorcerer's Bride, not yet out) involve marriages of convenience. And yet the first answer that comes to mind is: "very carefully." Seriously, as I look back, I've definitely done this better in some books than in others. Let's face it, any marriage is going to involve accommodation by both sides, but in a marriage of convenience - without love to ameliorate the problems - tensions can either spin totally out of control, or else one or both parties shuts down, clams up, and the relationship goes nowhere. Either extreme - or variants in between - make excellent fodder for character development. One more aside before we see if we can all learn something while I critique myself.

Grace note:  I am currently grinding my teeth over a book by an author I've enjoyed in the past. But this time her characters remained stagnant, offering the same repartee, the same arguments over an inordinate amount of time. Frankly, as well as being bored, I wanted to shake both hero and heroine, hoping common sense would suddenly blossom. And yet I kept reading, searching for the magic of Happily Ever After. But, darn it,  the story ended three chapters before the end of the book. (I just kept punching the Forward button on my Kindle, hoping for meat that didn't come until the last two pages in what was clearly a set-up for a second book. (Which I definitely will not read.) But something good came of this clanker, as it helped me emphasize my point for this week:

Working in the necessary character changes to make a marriage (or romance) work is vitally important. Writing a lot of cute dialogue simply isn't enough. Substance is needed - events that demonstrate the main characters are growing and changing, though perhaps interspersed with slips into previous behavior just to keep it interesting. In some cases, even a hint of change will do. But to have your characters go on and on and on without demonstrating they have become wiser, more loving, or whatever change is needed, just leads to deadly boredom. 


The Sometime Bride. My first book and personal favorite. My very young heroine changes little until well into the last third of the book. Married at 14 to accommodate her father's spycraft, for many years she is too young to do anything but what she's told by the men in her life. So is it any wonder it takes her so long to realize just how badly she's been betrayed by both her father and her husband? But when she does, her reaction is dramatic, and she makes up for all those years letting others call the tune. Does her husband change? Not much. As happens during dramatic moments in history, he is so caught up in the war on the Peninsula that he sometimes scarcely remembers he has a wife. Until it's almost too late to do anything about it. This one's a true cliff-hanger, as it doesn't look as HEA is going to be possible.

Tarleton's Wife. This book was born from my research for The Sometime Bride. I became totally fascinated by the dramatic events that occurred as the French pushed the English army back to the sea, forcing them through icy Spanish mountain passes in the dead of winter, then cornering them at Corunna. This resulted in a battle and evacuation by sea almost as dramatic as Dunkirk during WWII. The heroine in this book is a "daughter of a regiment," and when her father is killed in battle, a dying major marries her so she will have a home when she returns to England. You could call this marriage of convenience one born of desperation. Yes, she is a stalwart young women, who has been following the drum all her life. But now she must learn to run an estate that has fallen on hard times. She even has to deal with rebels reacting negatively to the impact of the Industrial Revolution. And just as she is demonstrating her competency in heroic proportions, perhaps even discovering love, life kicks her so hard she falls apart and runs. Not as much change is required of the hero, another man caught up in war, but in the end he is the one who has to take responsibility for fixing the tangled mess into which they've fallen. (Getting a little help from a deus ex machina.)

Shadowed Paradise. The heroine, who moves with her young son from New York's Upper East Side to Florida's Gulf Coast definitely has to make the most adjustments in this story, which eventually becomes an alleged "marriage of convenience" between two people who are in the process of falling in love. Although her idyllic life was shattered even before moving south, she now has to cope with both cultural shock and the threat of a serial killer. Her only hope, a man who stands for everything she hates. 

 A Gamble on Love. Faced with relatives who are determined to marry her to a cousin she despises, the young heroine of this traditional Regency (much lighter than the three books above) gathers enough spunk to hire a solicitor to find her a husband - one who will be suitably grateful to acquire a grand estate. Naturally, she gets more than she bargained for, and she must make a good many adjustments in the course of accommodating a much more dynamic spouse than she had envisioned. In this case the hero's character does not actually change much. It's more a case of gradually revealing his true personality, background, ambitions, his hopes for the future. And smiling as the young heroine makes this voyage of discovery with him.

In contrast, The Harem Bride, although a trad Regency, is much more serious. The only way a young Englishman can rescue an equally young Englishwoman from the Sultan's harem at the Topkapi Palace in Constantinople is to marry her. He does so, but between the awkwardness of the situation and the horrified reactions of their respective relatives, they are immediately parted. Their emotions, as well as their lives, become frozen in time. They have no opportunity to get to know each other, no opportunity for love, resulting in two cold, resentful people, both of whom must thaw and change before any form of HEA is possible. I may have overdone the reserve of each of these main characters, but somehow it just seemed they had to be this way. Life dealt them a harsh blow, and it takes nearly a decade for them to recover.

  The Welshman's Bride. In this, my latest Regency Gothic, due out in the next couple of weeks, agaom it's the heroine who has to make the most changes in her character. She is wealthy, overindulged, even a bit spoiled. She thinks she is up to marrying a man from an entirely different background, a "foreigner," but she rapidly discovers that's not true. She is met with opposition from all sides, including the nasty surprise of her husband's mistress, and yet she is the one considered weak and immature. Alas, it takes her husband all too long to realize that he too has to change, cleaving more to his beleaguered wife than to his autocratic mother. Major changes of character in this one, perhaps because I've learned just how important that is.

Sorcerer's Bride. This is Book 2 in a SyFy series that isn't out yet, but it needs to be included as the character changes are vital. Both hero and heroine have to make major accommodations. This is an example of a marriage of convenience where the heroine has a secret yen for the hero, but as far he is concerned, she is #3 on his list (or maybe lower) - after her sister and his long-time mistress. He considers her a bratty baby sister - definitely a lot to overcome. Over the course of the book, she changes from a sheltered princess to a rebel freedom-fighter, a woman almost as powerful as her sorcerer husband. Getting in his gradual acceptance of being married to the "wrong woman" was quite a challenge. I can only hope I managed it.

In summary, changes in your main characters over the course of your story make for a more interesting book. One of the all-time best examples of that: Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. Both characters have considerable mellowing to do before they can understand each other enough to love.

So keep those characters growing and changing, secondary characters as well. They will move your book from ordinary to sparkling, from ho-hum to Wow!

~ * ~

Hopefully, a holiday photo essay next week. And in case you missed the bear video added half-way through last week's Mosaic Moments, see the link below.

My daughter took this video early Wednesday morning, December 2, 2015. Her husband had just driven the two younger girls to the bus-stop when the oldest girl, who goes to school an hour later, heard knocking on the sliding glass doors of her bedroom . . .

Thanks for stopping by,


For Grace's website, listing all books as Blair Bancroft, click here.
For a brochure for Grace's editing service, Best Foot Forward, click here.



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