These are my notes from the Romance Writers of Australia 2022 conference. Please be aware that this is not a transcript.
Driven by Character – Maisey Yates and Jackie Ashenden
There’s no ONE method for creating a good character.
Romance is about people. It’s character driver, and the journey keeps the reader engaged.
They will get their HEA, but WHY and HOW?
Physical attraction isn’t enough. It needs emotion to underpin the chemistry.
Maisey read 300 Mills & Boons before writing her first one.
– first feedback was her heroine was too cliched (but why? she thought her heroine was based on what she’d read)
– needed a deeper understanding of character to make a believable heroine
Plot has an external focus; it’s a set of choices
Character has an internal focus; why does the character make a choice?
Either (plot or character focus) is okay, although at it’s core romance is about a character’s journey towards love.
How do you identify when a character is NOT driving the story?
Why does a character make a choice? Any choice, even what cereal they eat.
Sex scenes: Keep asking why? The virgin heroine isn’t going to have the same response as a porn star (unless she learned about sex from watching porn, but again, why?)
What drives your character forward?
– this is the engine of the story
– it’s the impetus to make decisions
– no goal = reactive, not proactive, to external plot points
– goal creates tests for characters
– need to react to the other character’s goal too (conflict)
The biggest wound.
– not always between main characters
– what they THINK they want vs what they ACTUALLY want
– external vs internal conflict
– if you need to throw in a random manufactured ‘conflict’ (aka misunderstanding) or event, then you haven’t gone deep enough with conflict
– if there is enough conflict between them, they can sit in a room and have a prolonged discussion about it
– if one sentence resolves the conflict, it’s not deep enough
– if you can do this (long discussion) without any other characters present, then you’ve got enough conflict
– Side Note: recommendation of M Hauge’s Essence vs Identity
Every choice about a character must have a reason. If she’s geeky and insecure; WHY?
“Even after 151 book, I still make mistakes.” Maisey Yates
– character layers and growth; if a character is too self-aware, there is no growth
– do everything with intention
– leave yourself somewhere to go by letting characters grow
– put the big external secrets on the page early (to avoid boring misunderstanding plots/conflict)
– dig into the emotional core and the ramifications of the secret
– journey of healing is joyful for the reader (and more satisfying)
It is EASY to hurt a character. It is VERY HARD to heal them.
The interesting thing about siblings in a series is they often have the same event (eg parents get divorced) but every sibling will have a different reaction to the experience, based on personality and their age at the time of the event.
(Jackie and Maisey spontaneously interrupted themselves to do a long brainstorming session on Maisey’s next book. It was a fun and interesting process).
More on Goals
It’s more than feelings and more than external goals. Ask why? If a character gets a new job, why did they need to change?
It can be hard to find an external goal for a powerful hero. “The Duke wants this, and he gets it because he’s the richest white guy around.” Boring. So he needs a goal that introduces feelings.
Two characters can have either:
– opposing external goals
– the same external goal (have to work together) but different internal goals to create a motivation vs conflict situation
Tropes are a good shorthand for letting a reader know where the emotions will come from.