Saturday, February 05, 2011

Guest blogger Marian Perera: Start with the heart

Today's guest is Marian Perera, author of Before the Storm, a romantic fantasy and her debut novel. She has some great insights into writing with heart and revealing a story's inner conflicts. Welcome, Marian. ~Cheryl Kaye Tardif

Start with the heart

I love writing romance. Even in my fantasy manuscripts there’s always a main couple who usually don’t get along at first, but find they have to work together to survive or to deal with a problem. And of course, in romances that’s the heart of the issue.

That’s how I start to write each romance, how I develop the idea and work it out. It always begins with a simple but strong conflict between two characters. For the sake of brevity I’ll refer to heroes and heroines, but this system can be adapted to same-sex romances just as well.

Every love story, from the most famous to the most obscure, can be boiled down to a simple but strong conflict. Gone with the Wind began with, “She loves him. But he’s going to marry another woman” though it slowly changed to “He loves her. But she’s infatuated with another man”. In The Thorn Birds, it was, “She loves him. But he’s a priest.”

That’s the heart of the matter, in other words, and the rest of the story grows from it. Nearly everything else can be changed – the characters’ descriptions, the style and the setting. Romeo and Juliet worked just as well when it took place in Verona Beach (William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet) and in New York City (West Side Story). But the core conflict between two people is the foundation stone.

Stripping the story down its bare bones shows the connection between the characters : “She’s a district attorney. He’s the innocent man she once prosecuted.” It can also show the conflict which propels the plot – or better yet, do both. And this can also warn the writer if there’s not enough of a clash to keep the story going.

“She’s the owner of a fancy restaurant. He eats there all the time” probably won’t work, but “She’s the owner of a fancy restaurant. He’s the fancier competition” has inherent tension. And ideally, readers should be able to see both sides. “She’s in love with him. But he stole all her savings and burned down her home” raises the question of what exactly she’s in love with.

Summarizing the romance to a crisp soundbite will also help when the manuscript goes out into the world, either to an agent/publisher or to readers. These days, writers don’t have the luxury of explaining plots at length. Make it short and sweet, though, and it’s more likely to be memorable.

In my debut novel, Before the Storm, it was, “He’s a baron trying to defend his people. She’s a high-class whore who has just been gifted to him by his greatest enemy.” That gift turns out to be a Trojan horse, and it has consequences none of them expect.

Now I have a question for you. If you write romance – in any way, shape or form – what’s the central conflict of your story?

Bio : Marian Perera studies medical laboratory technology (final year of college!) when she isn’t writing. Her first novel, a romantic fantasy called Before the Storm, was just released in paperback, and she blogs about writing, publication and every step between the two at Flights of Fantasy.

You can read the first chapter of Before the Storm HERE.

Blurb : In Dagran society Alex is a "mare", a woman used by the nobility, until her owner gifts her to his greatest enemy, Robert Demeresna. Robert wins her trust, but this mare is a Trojan horse, her owner's weapon in the battle to come. A battle fought with steam engines on the fields of Dagre, and psychic magic in the arena of her mind.

Before the Storm is available at


Carole Anne Carr said...

I would love to write romance, Cheryl, but find it too painful. I shall just have to stick with my historical children's stories. One way I could eventually do is to write romance set in a distant century, sufficiently removed not to hurt. :0)

Cheryl Tardif said...

Carole, I think it's important for authors to find their niche. Romance may not be the genre in which you're meant to write. And that's okay. :-) Write what moves you, what you enjoy most.

Marian found her niche in romance. I found mine in suspense. It doesn't mean we have to stay there. I've branched out into YA and romance, and my suspense crosses many sub-genres.

As Marian points out, it's important to "start with heart". Go where your heart is. :-)

Cheryl Kaye Tardif

Marian Perera said...

Hi Cheryl,

Thank you so much for hosting me! And you're quite right, we need to write whatever inspires or moves us the most. I actually started out in fantasy and I still write that genre, but fantasy romance seemed like a natural outgrowth of that.

And Carole, historical children's stories sound great. It's another place and time, much like fantasy, but probably with more assurance of a happy ending. :)

Maria Zannini said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Maria Zannini said...

I just finished reading two books by the same author back to back.

Book #1 was fabulous, I couldn't devour it fast enough. But book #2 dragged and I think it's exactly for the reason you stated. There was no real conflict until the very end. Whole sections of the novel did nothing but repeat a pattern that all was well.

Not that the book wasn't well written. Far from it. I should write so well! LOL! But it just missed the boat in terms of 'heart'.

Good observation.

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