Monday, February 18, 2008

Plot-aholics Unite!

My husband complains writer’s brains are too complicated. Why, he asks, can’t things naturally flow from Point ‘A’ to Point ‘B’ without all the convoluted twists and turns? Why, he accuses, isn’t anything ever simple?

Yeah, right.

I can only think it’s a thinly veiled indictment of yours truly, since the Hubster loves complex spy-vs.-spy or suspense novels. Besides, what would be the use in a book without plot twists? No matter how hot the sex, handsome the hero, or feisty the heroine, if the plot is lacking, so is the book. Then there are no gasps of disbelief, unexpected bursts of laughter or welling of tears. In short, there would be no fun. No fun in reading, and none, whatsoever, in writing either.

Whether you call them plot devises, plot twists or simply plot, without it literature falls flat on its ass. Now, I have to tell you, I’m the person who covers their face when the effluvium is about to hit the fan during a movie or TV show. And it doesn’t have to be scary stuff, in the traditional sense. Embarrassing or shocking moments do it for me too. And if a book can sneak one of those up on me, make it so I don’t see it coming, figuratively not giving me a chance to cover my eyes, I love it all the more.

Let’s face it, we know when we pick up a romance there must be a happily-ever-after. If there isn’t, then it’s not a romance. And we’re told, ad nauseam, there are limited plots for writers to work with. With that in mind, a writer has to be able to inject the unexpected into their stories, just to keep the reader interested, and invested, in the tale.

One of the best examples I can give of a twist that snuck up on me was in Molly O’Keefe’s Undercover Protector, published by Harlequin Superromance. That book kept me up until one in the morning during a time when I sorely needed my sleep! But the best part was when she threw in a plot twist that literally had me flinging the book down on the bed and running out of the room shouting, “Molly, you didn’t! Molly, you COULDN’T!”

She did, she could, and man, I love her for it. Molly had me from the start with that story and kept me there with her ability to introduce new strands into the tapestry of the tale as she went along. By the end it was oh, so satisfyingly complete.

As both a romance novel and novella writer I’ve learned to approach the two sub-genres a little differently. In the longer format I have the luxury of using secondary characters and sub-plots to provide the twists. In the shorter format I find the same effect can be achieved with something as simple as a smile when the reader is expecting tears or rage, or a light-bulb moment at an inopportune time. You have to keep your characters true to how you’ve written them, but real life is hardly ever predictable, so your characters shouldn’t be either.

However, there will always be a certain level of predictability in romances. Two people meet, fall in love against the odds, or remain in love against the odds, and end up promising to stay together. Bless the writers who take that straight-forward formula and turn it into a delicious twisty pretzel for our enjoyment!

And can I add that Molly’s latest release, Baby Makes Three, is right up there as what I classify as one of my favourite non-traditional romances? I might have to use that one in a future post about characterization...something else Molly does sooooo well!

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