Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Writer's Wednesday: Making your character empathetic

PHS editor and Harlequin Historical author Michelle Styles shares some ideas on how to make your reader connect more with your characters

It is great to create characters you care about but how to make the reader care. Authors are by definition entwined emotionally with their characters. Basically, if you don’t care what happens to them, why should anyone else? However, I operate on the assumption that 90% of readers will only get 10% of the emotion I feel. This can be for many reasons including what is happening in a reader’s own life.
SO how do you make the reader care about the characters you sweat blood to create?
1.       First impressions count.  Don’t underestimate them. In fact I think one of the few places where a prologue can be really useful is when your hero or heroine in the first  few scenes needs to be unsympathetic or somehow likely to be unlikeable (for example a redemption story). In order for a character to be redeemed, it is useful to first show that he is worthy of being redeemed. I first discovered this way back when I co-wrote a story The Lady Soldier. It was rejected with detailed notes by an editor that I was working with. Chiefly they were about how unattractive the hero was. Instantly I saw what the problem was and added the prologue showing the heroine’s life prior to the story actually beginning. I knew it had worked when the next feedback we received was how wonderful the hero was. I then used this fact when my editor asked for revisions with Breaking the Governess’s Rules.  A prologue with the hero solved the problem and set up the story very nicely.
2.       We tend to love characters who display altruistic behaviour and dislike characters who are selfish and self-centred.
a.       Victims can arouse sympathy but can also look weak. A woman always being rescued by a man (and waiting around to be rescued as well!) can be branded too stupid to live, particularly if she got herself into an avoidable situation.  To remedy this: you need to show the character had no choice but to put herself in that situation. And that she is trying to fight back.
b.      Everyone loves a saviour, except when the person being saved didn’t ask for help. Then it can look overbearing. When I was writing His Unsuitable Viscountess, I had a chapter where I wanted the heroine to be rescued when things went wrong with molten steel. It was a set up for later to help explain some of the hero’s actions. However, the hero kept coming across as overbearing. Finally I realised that the strong willed heroine had to ask for help. The asking for help enabled her to be rescued without making the hero seem overbearing.
c.       Martyrs can be irritating if there is a credible alternative.
3.       Promises — readers in general to like characters who keep their word, particularly  when it is not in their best interests to do so. Or it would be easier to stop, but she gave her word that something would get done.  If a promise does need to get broken, then if it is the hero or heroine make sure they do it for a good reason and show suitable remorse. Casually breaking their word for no good reason except expediency or sheer laziness leaves a sour taste.
4.       Volunteering — the general rule of thumb, is if the task is impossible and bound to lead to certain death, your leads can go ahead and volunteer for the job. If it is a piece of cake and bound to lead to riches, fame and glory, they should be somewhat reluctant.  Readers have greater admiration for people who have greatness thrust upon them.
5.       Dreams — know what your characters dream of achieving in life at the start of the story.  Have them know what her plans and dreams are and why at the start. It is far easier to sympathise with a character who has a plan or a hunger for something other than her current life.  The hopes and dreams of a character are important. The reader also wants to know why the  character possesses those specific dreams. What was it about her growing up that made her desire  fame so much that she was willing to do just about anything to get it? Why did the billionaire work so hard to save his family’s company? The full reason doesn’t necessarily have to be on page 1 but you have to provide a hint or snippet. Is the dream for herself or to benefit others? In Paying the Viking’s Price,  the heroine Edith wants to protect her people because she fills a deep sense of duty towards them and the land her family has controlled for a long time.  Brand, the hero wants the land because he has dreamed of putting his roots down.
6.       Who bears the blame when something goes wrong? If the hero or heroine takes the blame, particularly if they were only minimally at fault or seeking to shield another character, readers can often sympathise.
When you need to increase the emotional stakes think about:
1.       Suffering – how are you going to make it worse for the lead character – either making what they want to obtain more valuable or increase the risk of what they have to lose.
2.       Why is this going to be emotionally difficult for the character to do? Consider foreshadowing to show a similar situation but where the character fails or doesn’t quite manage to do it.
3.       Take the mentors/crutches away so that the character has to face her final battle on her own.
Turn offs for a character – a lot of this is simply the reverse of making the reader care. It can be useful when you are creating a villain or if you are looking at why perhaps the editor is not as sympatico with your characters as you are.
1.       Madness, particularly uncontrollable or strange inexplicable behaviour does not endear a character to most readers. Charming eccentricity yes, but full blown madness is very hard to pull off.
2.       Controlling or abusive behaviour with no explanation. If the reader can’t understand why, then you can lose them. The temptation can be to hold the full explanation until the end, but it is perhaps better to give hints as to the reason behind or at least show they are capable of compassion early on (this is particularly true if you have a controlling hero). Sadistic bullies are never very attractive.
3.       Totally downtrodden with nowhere to go but up and no expectation or desire to go there. Aspirational characters tend to garner more sympathy.
4.       Unnecessary cruelty to animals or children or defenceless characters.
5.       Attitude towards himself. If a character is overly pompous and self-important, humourless or otherwise devoid of humanity, the character will have to work harder to resonate with readers.
6.       Self-serving and self-appointed characters are often hard for a reader to find sympathy for. In fact if a character tries to muscle in somewhere where they are clearly not invited, sympathy can vanish.  However if the character can prove that he in fact deserves that place or deserves to be there, sympathy can return very quickly.
7.       An oath breaker – if readers respect someone who keeps a promise, they really dislike someone who can’t be trusted to keep his word.
8.       With criminals – if the crime has been committed for selfish reasons then it can be a turn off. If it is committed for perhaps misguided but altruistic reasons,  the audience can forgive or sometimes applaud, particularly if the victim of the crime *deserves* it.  A heroine who steal bread to feed her starving siblings is more sympathetic than one who shoplifts for the thrill of it.
As a general rule of thumb, readers are fine with behaviour that is explained and has an unselfish motive at its core.


Michelle Styles writes warm, witty and inmate historical romance in a wide range of time periods. Her next book Saved by the Viking Warrior will be published on 19 August 2014. To learn more visit her website

Monday, July 28, 2014

Congratulations to all the Rita and Golden Heart winners!

On Saturday night in a gala ceremony, the RWA announced the winners of  the 2014 Rita and Golden Heart contests.

Leah Ashton won the short contemporary contest for her Harlequin KISS  Why Resist a Rebel? Meg Lewis editing

and Jane Porter won the novella category for her Take Me, Cowboy which was published by Tule Publishing with Tessa Shapcott editing.

The short contemporary Golden Heart was won by Sarah Cannon for  "Yesterday's Promise" manuscript.

Many congratulations to all the winners. The full list can be seen on the RWA website.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Better Late Than Never - a Peek at the Loveletter Reader Convention

You know you're at a romance event when there are red heart balloons, right? These decorations came from the Loveletter Convention held in Berlin at the end of May. This is my first Pink Heart Society slot since the convention and I just had to share. I might add that this is a very rare photo. With 700 attendees, it wasn't often I saw any part of the conference site without people.
You know you're in Germany when you see warm, fresh-baked bread pretzels beside the coffee before the day begins. Delightfully (and with a good dollop of luck that the weather remained fine and warm) it was served outdoors, which was an added treat. I loved the long tables where you could park yourself and your swag (lots and lots of wonderful giveaways in the Convention bags, including but not limited to books) and have a coffee or lunch or just a rest in the sun or under one of the big umbrellas. One of the best parts of the event was the chance to chat with whomever happened to be sitting nearby as we were all ardent romance fans. What's better than sharing that love of romance? I got to meet readers from Germany, Austria, the Netherlands, France and  Spain and gather there were others from further afield too.
Here's a shot of part of the outdoor area. Doesn't that look inviting?
As for the Convention itself, it was a marvellous event for readers and those of us who are both readers and writers. I attended panel sessions which were lots of fun as we got to hear a range of perspective from a group of authors, as well as input from the audience. There were also sessions where people read snippets from their stories. I LOVE hearing other people's stories, and came home with a list of books I want to read. There were workshops too, on a range of topics. I gave a workshop with fellow Aussie author Kelly Hunter (the pic below is of us together at the booksigning).
There were lots of opportunities to mingle with other writers and best of all, with readers. I don't think I've been made to feel more welcome anywhere. Then too, was the chance to catch up with staff from my German publisher, Cora at a fantastic dinner, to meet bloggers who worked so busily before, during and after the conference, and even a reader who'd won a national contest to attend and turned up with a bundle of my books for me to sign!
The booksigning on the last afternoon was an amazing event. Here's part of the queue to get in just before it started. The noise of the crowd as you approached was surprisingly loud and the smiles and goodwill despite the heat were lovely.
One of the bonuses of the Convention was the location - Berlin has so much to offer. Sadly I didn't fit in enough time there for a lot of sightseeing - something I intend to remedy. I had a fantastic time at the Loveletter Convention 2014 - so much so that I'm planning to go back.
If you could choose a location for a conference, where would be be? City or country? Local or far away?
Annie has her head down working on a book that's due. Here's a taste of her current stories:
BACK IN THE ITALIAN'S BED is Annie's first novella - available from Amazon and Barnes and Noble right now as an ebook for just 99c.                                                                             
It was love at first sight when charismatic hotelier Fabrizio Armati swept Jenna off her feet in Venice. That chance meeting led to a night together, then to a sizzling hot affair that lasted till the day she discovered he sees her as nothing but an expendable mistress.
Six months later Jenna tells herself she’s moved on. Until the day Fabrizio walks into a meeting to discover her working for his greatest rival and she discovers just how far he’ll go to get her back. When passion ignited again, will it be on his terms or hers?
DAMASO CLAIMS HIS HEIR is as September Harlequin Mills and Boon release. It recently scored a Top Pick and a 4 1/2 star review from Romantic Times. You can order it from Amazon, The Book Depository or Barnes and Noble.                                                                                
When opposites attract!
Damaso Pires should have known better than to get involved with Marisa—the scandalous princess of Bengaria! Yet soon he sees her true beauty and flawless virtue, which touches a place in him he thought ruthlessly destroyed by his childhood on the streets of Brazil.
But their brief affair becomes permanent when Marisa reveals she's pregnant.
Damaso knows the sting of illegitimacy and, having fought tooth and nail to claw his way up to the dizzying heights of international success and financial infamy, he won't let his child slip from his grasp. There's only one way to claim his heir, and that's marriage!

Monday, July 21, 2014

Male on Monday: James Garner

PHS editor and Harlequin Historical author Michelle Styles plays tribute to one of her early inspirations -- James Garner

James Garner died on Saturday 19 July 2014 age 86. He was quite simply hugely influential in early television. Like Clint Eastwood, he made the leap for early television to the movies.
A high school dropout  who became a decorated war hero, being awarded the purple heart twice. His early life was fraught after his mother died.
His first big break came with Maverick where he starred as Bret Maverick -- the charming but as he put it lazy gambler.  He brought a smile to the Western. It was watching the reruns of this show in the late 1970's that first brought him to my attention. I learnt to play poker because of it.
In the 1960s, his attention turned towards movies and he starred in films with Doris Day as well taking part in The Great Escape. In the 1970's he continued to some films such as Support Your Local Sheriff as well as taking his Maverick persona into a contemporary setting by playing Jim Rockford in the Rockford Files. Later he played the father of Mel Gibson's Maverick in the movie version. I still think James Garner was the better Brett Maverick though...
In 2004 he played the older Ryan Gosling in The Notebook.
There was a quiet charm and  self-deprecating wit about his acting. Apparently he was wonderful to work with as he actually listened to what the other actors were saying and doing and was able to react off it. Apparently a very rare quality but one which is much appreciated.
He married his wife Lois two weeks after first meeting her. He also adopted her daughter, Kitty, from her first marriage. The  marriage lasted until his death. They had another daughter together.

SO here is to one of the true greats of Hollywood -- James Garner.

Michelle Styles writes warm, witty and intimate historical romance in a wide range of time periods. Her next novel will be published on 19 August --Saved by the Viking Warrior.

Friday, July 18, 2014


Harlequin author Heidi Rice points you in the direction of a ground-breaking little movie with some pretty hefty themes.

You know when you go to see a movie about a child growing up, and they have to get two (or three, or four) different actors to play the part as the child ages? Never really feels all that authentic does it. Well, director Richard Linklater - the indie genius behind romance favourites Before Sunset, Before Sunrise and Before Midnight — has solved that problem in his ground-breaking new movie Boyhood, by basically casting a boy called Ellar Coltrane at the age of 6, then going back and filming him for a couple of weeks each year for the next 12 years, until Ellar was 18. Thus he tells the fictional story of a boy called Mason and his passage to manhood.

Now, some of you may be thinking that's a gimmick. Take it from me, it's not.

I went to see this movie last weekend with a very good friend of mine, who I met over 20 years ago when we were both attending the mother-and-baby club for the first time at our local GP practice with our week-old baby boys! We talked about the disturbing colour of baby pooh that day, and bonded as new mums embarking on a frightening journey into motherhood... We've talked about just about everything else since. But seeing this movie together brought so much of that mad, scary, incredible journey back to me and to my friend (making her a great person to see it with!). Because Mason's story, although told from his point of view, also tells the story of his parents - Patricia Arquette's divorced single mum and Ethan Hawke's immature but immensely loveable dad. And his older sister Samantha. It tells the story of the friends and relationships that come and go in all their lives over the next 12 years. And the story of all the mundane, scary, sad, exciting, poignant moments along the way.

This film is an experience. Authentic, touching, at once true and always engaging while at the same time never seeming overblown or contrived. It gives an amazing insight not just into the difficulties of growing up but the challenges of growing older - for both Mason and his parents. It's nearly three hours long, but when it finished, we didn't want it to end, because we wanted to know 'what happened next'...

Whether or not you're a parent, I would highly recommend this movie, because it tells a universal story about the human experience in a totally unique way.

Oh and there's some great Texas locations and some fabulous conversations about everything from condoms to elves to the Beatles!

Have I got you hooked yet?

Heidi's last Harlequin KISS novel Beach Bar Baby is out now. She loves to chat (maybe a bit too much) on Twitter (@HeidiRomRice), her website or Facebook.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Riding the Writing Roller Coaster #7: Rejection

Hey all! If you're going to be at RWA National in San Antonio next week, look me up.  I'll be at the Wednesday night literacy signing as well as Friday's Harlequin booksigning.  Looking forward to meeting you.

Once upon a time, there was a boy named Tattoo. Tattoo wanted to become an
officer in the US Army.  He joined ROTC and took his mandatory physical. A few weeks later, his physical came back with the words REJECTED stamped across it. Tattoo was turned down because he had childhood asthma.
Undeterred, Tattoo contacted his commander’s office. He believed he had enough medical evidence to prove he’d outgrown his asthma and thus deserved a waiver.
The commander’s office told him they didn’t apply for medical waivers.

At this point, a lot of young men would give up, find another career. Tattoo, however,.requested a face-to-face meeting with the Commanding Officer during which he laid out his case. The CO agreed to  let him apply for a waiver with the understanding he could still be rejected.

Tattoo received his medical waiver five weeks later.

The point of this little fable is obvious. Rejection happens to all of us.  Doesn’t matter how many manuscripts you've written.  At some point, you will have a story get rejected.  Maybe more than one.  To say rejection sucks would be an understatement. Even those so-called good rejections – the ones where the bad news comes with compliments and feedback  - still feel like someone reached inside and tore your stomach in two. No one wants to hear their efforts are inadequate.  Why not add fuel to the fire and tell us our babies are ugly and stupid too?

Monday, July 14, 2014

Male on Monday: Morretti MIllionaires

Kimani Romance author Pamela Yaye explains the inspiration behind her latest series of hunky men.

The number one question readers ask me (besides, “Do you know the models on the covers of your books?”) is “Where do you get your ideas from?” Ideas are everywhere. Seriously! I don’t watch much TV, but I stay informed about what’s happening around the world. I listen to the radio, read everything from magazines to biographies and self-help books, and I get a kick out of chatting people up while I’m waiting in line at the bank and grocery store. All it takes is a joke, an amusing story, or a personal experience to spark an idea…
The idea for my new family miniseries, The Morretti Millionaires, came to me after a lengthy conversation with my former editor. She was a huge champion of my work, super encouraging, and next to my family and agent, my biggest supporter. So, after our conversation, I grabbed my trusty notebook, put on my favorite Robin Thicke CD, and got down to work. I knew from the get-go that I wanted to create a culturally diverse family, and since I have tons of great Italian friends, I modeled the Morretti family after several families I knew growing up. Parents, Arturo and Vivica Morretti are a dynamic couple who’ve raised three successful, drop-dead sexy sons oozing with charm, and charisma, and I modelled each character after celebrities who caught my eye while I was doing my character profiles.
Oliver Martinez
Demetri Morretti, the thirty-two-year-old baseball phenom with a bad attitude, and a chip on his shoulder, is more than just a sexy athlete. He’s sensitive, soft-spoken, and chivalrous. Demetri has a heart of gold, and if that’s not enough, he’s the splitting image of French actor Oliver Martinez.   

Miguel Torres
Nicco Morretti, the thirty-four-year-old restaurateur with the chiseled physique, and killer swag resembles Spanish soccer star, Miguel Torres. Nicco is always up for a good time, especially in the bedroom, and he plays as hard as he works.

Eduardo Verastegui
Rafael Morretti, the thirty-six-year old chairman of Morretti Incorporated, reminds me of actor, Eduardo Verastegui, right down to his serious demeanor, smoldering gaze, and designer suits.

Arturo Morrertti, the 66-year-old family patriarch, with the quick temper and headstrong personality was modeled after one of my favorite actors, Robert De Niro.

Robert Di Niro
Emilio Morretti, the 36-year old race car legend (Arturo Morretti’s nephew) was modelled after, Matthew Fox, and his story, Seduced by Mr. Right, is a sweet, tender romance.

Matthew Fox

The Morretti Millionaires are more than just great looks, and a smokin’ hot body. Demetri, Nicco, and Rafael are everything a woman could want: romantic, thoughtful, affectionate, and the most charming men you will ever meet.  If you’re looking for a sexy, steamy read, pick up one of the Morretti Millionaire novels this summer!

All the best in life and love.
Pamela Yaye
Pamela Yaye has a Bachelor’s Degree in Christian Education, and her love of African-American fiction inspired her to pursue a career in writing romance. Her fifteenth Harlequin Kimani Romance novel, Seduced by the Playboy, was released July 2014. When Pamela’s not writing about strong, feisty heroines and the alpha males who love them, this busy wife, mother, and teacher is watching sports, experimenting in the kitchen, or planning her next family vacation. Pamela lives in Alberta, Canada with her real-life hero, and adorable, but mischievous son and daughter. To learn more about,
Pamela, and her steamy romance novels visit her new, revamped website: