Wednesday, 19 February 2020

Evocative places

Writers and readers know the power of location. Not just for selling houses, it sells books too! How often have you picked up a book from the shelf, or nosed around it on your device of choice, because of a place name in the title. This is especially noticeable with the summer season approaching - we hope - and holiday locations in mind. A lot of my ideas of what makes a romantic suspense, or a romantic mystery were formed by reading Mary Stewart. Hands up all those who vicariously fell in love with the Greek islands from reading her books. Of course, the strong silent hero had nothing to do with it.

A couple of weeks ago I went to a pre concert talk about Beethoven and his association with Vienna. More of that in another post, later. I've never thought of Vienna as a location for a book, but of course now I am, and Mary Stewart used it in Airs Above the Ground. There are threads of a treasure hunt involving a lost manuscript floating about in the brain, but it is really going to have to wait its turn.

All this made me think of the way a place can become a shorthand for a mood. I had fun with a short list. In all of them, romance is a given.

Paris - sophistication, food, a lot of emphasis on scent and luxury

Vienna - much cooler, maybe an older couple or second time around romance. Music.

London - famous landmarks, speed, hustle, weather!

Greece - heat, beaches, laid back lifestyle

The French Riviera - one of my specialities. I always get a first image of a 1950 type movie, with sports car speeding along the Corniche. Which just about says it all.

New York. This is darker, noisy, more edgy

Anywhere in Italy - food again. Architecture, art, Icecream

And of course, Wales. I'm planning a lot of my romantic suspense to be set here, capitalising on the scenery and the Celtic heritage. Myths and mists.

I am sure you'd have a few to add.

Wednesday, 12 February 2020

The most deadly sin?

The concept of deadly sins - sloth, greed, envy, and the rest, have provided quite a bit of material for writers, film makers and artists as a collection - the full seven. Often in creepy thrillers.They are also the motor power of a great deal of work individually, as themes or character traits, even in romance writing. The villain can quite generously possess all of them, but even a hero or heroine can exhibit elements, with maybe one in particular  that becomes an issue of the story, where its significance has consequences - maybe that one moment when laziness led a protagonist to fail in something vital - and/or the journey to overcome what is recognised as a potentially fatal flaw.

All writers are human, or we claim to be,  so we try and write characters who are human or have a semblance of human emotions, or how will a reader identify with them? I doubt if there is a human who has not experienced all the sins at some stage in their lives, even if it is only envying their sister for her curly hair when theirs is is poker straight, and vice versa. I'm not sure if there is a sin that covers that contrary human thing of of perversely wanting that trait that you don't possess, but a lot of people are not giving up on their hair straighteners any time soon. Isn't technology wonderful?

But the thing that struck me from my reading this week, and inspired this post, was how often what might be called the sin of pride is the king pin of a lot of romance writing, and crime too. Not in an overt way, but as the underlying force for keeping secrets, saving face, not wanting to be patronised, the object of pity, to look to be  lacking in some way. How often has the heroine in the romantic suspense insisted that she can stand on her own two feet, the hero retreated from an instance when he judged himself to have failed in some way, with consequences that stretch across the book?

Secrets are the life blood of romantic suspense, and pride and self worth are a great motive for having them and keeping them.  Having had the thought, I'm going to be watching my own work, looking for times when my characters are letting a variation of pride motivate them. I suspect it might be more often that I expect.

Wednesday, 5 February 2020

The lives of supporting characters

I was going to call this killing the relatives, but thought it might be severely misconstrued. The post last week put me in mind of the 'problem' of your hero/heroine's immediate family. Like - do they have one and how much should they feature in the book? Should they feature in the book? And if not, why not? 

Some books are built around the idea of family - and close loving relationships, or the hostility that can only be bred amongst people who know each other very well and know about all the buttons to press. And of course home is supposed to be the place where they have to take you in. (Although they might not necessarily welcome you.) These tend not to be romantic suspense, though, or not the way I write it. My protagonists tend to be loners - which throws them nicely onto their own devices or the arms of the other protagonist. Horrible to say and experience in the real world, but bereavement is sometimes a necessity - orphan, widow, sole survivor - or, not quite bereavement - being an only child. I can write from 'what you know' on that one. Relatives and friends of all sorts are a severe handicap when you need to put your protagonists in a position where they have nowhere to turn and no one to help.

Sadly, this means disposing of the family, particularly parents, because whoever else you have in your life and whatever your relationship with them, everybody began life with two of them, even if that is only the biological truth. I was lucky enough to have a close and supportive relationship with mine, and I do know how lucky that makes me. I knew that I could (and did) always turn to them when all else failed. Which is probably why I get one of those pulling-you-out of- the-book moments when I read something when the heroine - and it usually is the heroine - doesn't pick up the phone and call home.

This is why, if you want to isolate your protagonists, the parents (and family) have to go. Hence the high incidence of plane and car crashes that I noted in last week's post, which is where this all began. You can go for various modes of distance, estrangement (which is a story in itself) or physical separation, like sending them somewhere suitably far away - and I have done that. But if you really want to remove them from the scene you have to kill them. Natural causes is an option, but you do have to do it twice for parents, to what are, these days, still relatively young people. Which is how we get back to the car and plane crashes.

I try to be more unusual with my treatment of relatives - so far I have a drive-by shooting, a train wreck  and am lining up a house fire. And these are the good guys! I do try not to be too horrible, but it is not easy to be fatal and inventive.

But you should see what I do to the bad guys ...