- by Vonna Harper
Birthing a book proposal is a fascinating process, one you’d think I’d have mastered after all the time I’ve spent in this business. But obviously, as witness by what happened this week, it ain’t so. Every time is new. Every time becomes a learning experience.
What am I talking about? To give a bit of background, as the cover for Storm Howl by Loose-Id demonstrates, I do erotica. A lot of erotica. But my background includes category romance and mainstream historicals so you’d think I can put together proposals of any and all kinds to present to editors or agents in my sleep.
But, and pay close attention to my excuse here, it ain’t necessarily so. My latest venture into the unknown involved a romantic suspense idea I just emailed to my agent. Sad to say I’ve been working on the 40 page sucker for the better part of a month when usually I can crank out some 3000 words a day. I’m guessing a lot of writers know what I’m talking about when I say that developing characters (to say nothing of a complex plot) takes however long it takes. There’s simply no plugging in personality traits from some how to writing book and immediately being gifted with full blown characters eager to run with the plot. No, they reveal themselves an inch at a time. At least my characters do. I may start with a major personality trait that’s usually the result of some traumatic event in their childhood, but that’s far from a whole person.
Birthing that person/character is indeed like having a baby and watching it grow into an adult. I liken my first blush of enthusiasm for a character to holding my newborns for the first time. Those two boys were deliciously fascinating lumps of clay and diaper, but those blue eyes and dark hair gave me no hint of the men they’d grow into. Same with my characters. They need food and water, education and recreational activities, joys and failures, bruises and rewards on their way to becoming men.
Okay I said to myself Wednesday afternoon. I have three fully developed characters fully emersed in a suspense plot all ready to wing to my agent. I’m in the car heading for a writers’ dinner get together feeling free and more than a little proud of myself. The weight was off my shoulders, my mind opening up to a brand new idea just starting to nag.
Then something started nibbling at me, a sense that I’d left something out. Go away, I muttered. Leave me the hell alone. I’ve got it right, right you say, right! “No you don’t, you fool,” that inner critic insisted. That’s when I stopped arguing, stopped paying attention to the job of driving, and let the critic talk.
“Look fool,” it said, “you created this woman who doesn’t understand men who willingly risk their lives and feed off danger. You killed her husband in what looks like a mountain climbing accident and think you set her up as a foil for the search and rescuing hero. But that’s not enough.”
“Why isn’t it?” I asked, meekly now.
“Because you tried to paint her as anti risk and adventure even before hubby took a header. What’s the reason for her hangup?”
“That’s what I thought,” said inner critic. “You left a huge hole in her past, the childhood trauma responsible for that knot in her belly.”
“Oh. Ah, what do you suggest?”
By then I was, I think, more than halfway to my destination and thankfully still on the road instead of having drifted off into a ditch or the oncoming traffic. In the middle of groaning that I didn’t have a clue about her trauma, the perfect one hit me upside the head. Yes, yes! Her big brother nearly drowned while river rafting while they were both children and is brain damaged. Now I understand and sympathize with a woman desperate for a safe and secure life–one she isn’t going to get because otherwise what’s the point of the story?
Okay, so a month to let this proposal marinate and in the end I had to kick the burner onto broil at the last minute to finish the job.
Fascinating journey this writing business.
Vonna Harper, still learning after all these years