It's Monday again and time for one of our regular guests--the lovely and insightful Ashley March. Today she's giving us a great idea on how to turn some tropes on their head.
Take it away, Ashley...
Letting Your Character in on the Secret
by Ashley March
Awhile ago I had the pleasure of reading Julie Anne Long’s most recenthistorical, What I Did For a Duke. I say it was a pleasure because not only amI a huge JAL fan (if you haven’t read her work already, please do so—you’remissing out), but also because this was the first book I ever remember readingwhere as soon as I finished I wanted to start over again.
Butthat’s from a reader’s point-of-view. From a writer’s point-of-view, whatreally struck me about this book is that although it could have been a typicalrevenge plot where the hero gets back at the heroine’s brother by breaking theheroine’s heart, (warning! partial spoiler below)
Ms.Long instead surprised me partway through the book by having the heroinerealize that this was the hero’s intention. I admit it, I was stunned. Here Iwas, sure that the hero would succeed in his plans, make the heroine fall inlove with him (while he falls in love with her, of course), and then at the endwhen she finds out what his true intentions were from the beginning, therewould be drama (!) and angst (!). Yet Ms. Long completely turns thatpredictable plot upside down by having the heroine figure out the hero’sintentions before he could break her heart.
Whatdid this do?
1) Mostimportantly, I was even more excited to continue reading than I had beenbefore, because now I had no idea what to expect.
2) Itmade me believe that the heroine was an equal match for the hero, which isn’talways the case with plots like this.
3) Itmade me even more envious of Ms. Long’s genius.
Italso, however, made me wonder why we writers sometimes choose to take the easyway out. Is it because we’ve read certain tropes before and know that they cansucceed, thus we want to emulate their success for ourselves? Or is it becausewhen we brainstorm ideas, we choose something from the first three options,never daring to explore beyond the predictable?
Icould challenge you to copy from Ms. Long by choosing a common plot device andthen turning its on its head to make it unique—and I’m sure each of us couldfind a way to do that without much effort. (Throw in a rabbit here, a redherring there.)
Butinstead, I’m going to challenge you to dig a bit further. Specifically, whatcharacter(s) can you give knowledge to of an event/person/thing, etc. that iscurrently ignorant of that event/person/thing as the story stands? For you see,giving your character knowledge—whether he chooses to reveal it to anyone elseor not—makes him stronger and smarter in the reader’s eye, and it also makesthe story more complex and fresh.
Thinkof the heroine dressing up as a man and becoming the hero’s best friend. Whatif the hero knows the heroine is pretending, instead of questioning why he’ssuddenly experiencing sexual awareness toward a member of the same sex whenhe’s never done so before? (I have to admit, I like my heroes to be smart,too.)
Thinkof two ex-lovers reunited by circumstance. Instead of them both being attractedto each other still and constantly questioning whether the other person lovesthem, have one of the characters confident of their love being reciprocated.What other reason would they have to keep them at a distance?
Theseare just a couple of examples off the top of my head, and I’m sure you can comeup with better ideas when you look at your specific characters. Figure out whatthey currently don’t know (this could be about anything), then change it so thatthey do know. This can deepen notonly your characters and your story, but also create something that might oneday make your readers stand in awe and rave about your incomparable genius.(Here’s to you, Ms. Long. J )
What other book(s) can you think ofwhere a character’s knowledge turned what could have been a predictable plotinto something astounding?
AshleyMarch is a historical romance author who lives in Colorado with her adoring (oris that adorable?) husband, her two young daughters, and their dog. Her latestbook, ROMANCING THE COUNTESS, was released by NAL Penguin in September 2011,and she is currently psychoanalyzing the characters of her next two projects:the story of Joanna and Ethan, two secondary characters from her Victoriandebut; and the first book in a series set in 1920s Long Island.
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