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Monday, June 25, 2012
1:25 AM | Posted by MsHellion | | Edit Post
Ladies and Gentlemen, I have crossed to the dark side. If it could happen to me, it could happen to you. Alas, I cannot believe I am writing these words: I have read a Nora Roberts novel.
No, no, don’t bother to check your screen or run your virus check—or even send the police to verify if I’ve been body snatched. It’s me, and I read THE WITNESS.
Let me give a brief summary of my experience in reading a Nora Roberts novel. Usually I don’t make it very far—I’m definitely a person you typically need to hook, either by content, voice, or premise within the first five pages. It’s why I don’t usually go for NR’s books usually. I’m not hooked by her content or voice within five pages; and her premise usually wasn’t that compelling for me either. However, this was different. The heroine was sheltered, very smart, a bit of a computer hacker, and accidentally tangled up with the Russian mafia. These are things that interest me, so I proceeded past my five pages and got hooked by the content of the story.
Then things got more insidious.
We meet the hero, who I was glad we did not meet first because I didn’t like him. It wasn’t that he wasn’t likeable. He was very likeable, I suppose, if you like small town heroes who are “easy-going” and “happy.” I’m not a fan. And I found him very annoying where the heroine was concerned, especially when he was all up in her business and he had absolutely no right to be. And he wouldn’t take back-off as an answer. He kept showing up with pie and insisting in coming in the house. He was an annoying persistent pain-in-the-ass.
But then…suddenly I did like him. He said or did the right thing. I mean, he went back to being a PITA, but he’d do something and I’d swoon. It baffled me. I wasn’t sure I liked it—which incidentally was exactly what the heroine was feeling. And that is when I caught on. OMG, Nora Roberts is totally owning me through this story. I feel whatever the characters feel, I believe whatever the characters believe, I want what they want—and I don’t even realize it. I just want to read it as fast I can. The reason I like the hero when I do is because the heroine does; and when he’s being a PITA, it’s because she’s thinking it too. She’s totally putting me in the moment and showing me the scene in the heroine’s POV without being obvious about it, and I’m hooked. It’s totally storytelling at its finest. The kind of thing we all want to do.
So I was staring at the book, stopped, trying to figure out what was it about this scene that worked. What is it I like about the hero? And what is it that I find annoying? How does she balance it?
Magic, I finally decided.
Okay, not really. I think it was one part mixing opposite personalities. She’s a bit socially awkward and majorly introverted—and because she’s on the run and trying to remain invisible, majorly quiet, private, and constantly trying to protect herself. He comes from a family—a big one—and each is more extraverted than the last. He’s gregarious, curious, and polite to a fault. You hate to say no to him, though she tries. They’re both determined, persistent, full of integrity, and want justice. It’s the natural storyteller’s blend of taking characters who have dissimilar personalities but similar values, then pairing them with backstories that make them both empathetic and full-bodied. Then sticking them in a situation where everything is larger than life since real people who are actually being gunned by the Russian mafia don’t have time to read Nora Roberts’ novels no matter how much they might like to.
Still, you don’t have to have the Russian mafia to make your story compelling. I’m now waist deep in the Lisa Kleypas novel, Rainshadow Road. Kleypas spends more time showing the reader how the characters are alike rather than different. They’re both artists, of a sort. She works with glass; he works a vineyard and makes wine. They’re both extremely passionate and well-read about their life’s work; and they’re both capable of magic with their work. It’s as if they were drawn to their careers in childhood and have a magical affinity for it that they can’t explain, it just is.
Possibly their real difference is that she is a woman who wants a long-term relationship (and thought she had it before her boyfriend dumped her for her sister) and he is a man who goes from woman to woman—and loves them in general, but not on a singular committed basis. Though he has a nice backstory to explain such rather crappy behavior. He comes from a family that isn’t worth anything; it’d be dangerous to have a relationship, et al. Again, it’s all about the characters and backstories—but no Russian mafia, so the circumstances seem much further in reach. The heroine would definitely have time for a Nora Roberts’ novel and I’m sure has read more than I have.
So we’re back to that old standby we’ve discussed many, many times: characters, backstories, and larger than life drama. I have the characters—Nellie and Brody are definitely characters and very vocal about certain things. I have some larger than life drama for them and some scenes planned ahead that I hope turn out like I’m picturing them. It’s the backstories I haven’t fleshed out as totally. I think it’s part of the problem why I have stop and go writing so much—and you know what they say about “stop and go writing”—it can tear up the engine of your WIP if you don’t keep a close watch on it and change the oil more often.
It’s midnight here. I’m sorry.
Do you figure out backstories as you go? Or do you have backstories already figured out before you start writing? Or is it both? You have a backstory, but then you get to the end and realize it wasn’t the backstory at all. I think it’s both, myself. Stories are like life. You spend your whole life trying to figure out the meaning of it, and it’s only after the end you figure out what it was the whole time. You can’t rush it, you can’t assume—you just have to wait till the end like everyone else.
I figure Nora probably figures stuff out in the end. What with her famous line about she can revise anything but a blank page. So that’s what I learned from her—she makes it look effortless, but I imagine there is a lot of effort to it. A lot of things running behind the scenes, like a duck’s feet beneath the water as the duck is gliding along the top.