Sunday, January 13, 2008

Plot, character, or something else?

Have you heard it said that all speculative romances, science fiction romances, or alien romances are either plot driven or character driven? Sometimes, I think there is, or should be, a third category: "sex-driven"!

However, if "sex-driven" were to be officially as important as plot and character, I'd also want to include action-driven, idea-driven, world- driven... and life (and literature) would get complicated. Some will say "action" is "plot".

I always start with the character in every sense of the word "character". Personality, morals, virtues, flaws. Everything that happens to my hero --and to my heroine-- happens because of a decision they made, because of who they are and "where they come from".

Does that mean that a character-driven book is like a snowball? Or a comet? Mine don't move that fast, and there are a lot of layers of accumulated dirt rolled up in it, if that is the case, not to mention the other debris, grit, and star road-kill.

Research is like the shark's fin in the surf. You don't need to see the body of it to know whether or not it's there. I love Research, and I do way too much of it, and I have trouble burying it, and sometimes it reveals insuperable difficulties. If my heroine is trapped with an immensely attractive and eligible hunk on a desert island, she might want to look and smell good. This could be a challenge.

Here's a glimpse into my mind.

Take unsightly body hair. It's a Romance. It's a Fantasy. (It's Insufficient Mating Material!) Does she have to have that problem? Can it be ignored? Yes.... but... well, that depends. Let's look into this, because it could be a rich source of comedy or conflict.

What do people do? There's threading. It's a bit like using tweezers, but done with fast moving twisted thread. Hence the name. I could thread my legs, but not my armpits. We can rule out solvents, creams, bleaches, chemical reactions. What is wax made of? Could one raid a wild beehive for the beeswax? Would it work? Would it be worth trying? Would mud do just as well? I think I heard that the Egyptians used mud. I also read somewhere that they used crocodile dung as a contraceptive sponge. (No! Not in a Romance, pause to roll on the floor at the thought of my editor's face.)

OK. Off to some beach to try the proverbial "razor" shell for myself. Maybe it would have been quicker, less painful, and altogether less scabby if I've visited snopes.

Are there people whom nature blessed with naturally smooth legs? Yes. OK. We will gloss over what is going on in her armpits, and bless her legs. Next...?

Broken jaws are quite a challenge. I talked to a lot of nay sayers who said I couldn't possibly write a Romantic hero with a broken jaw because of all the problems, and what it would do to his appearance (short term) and the dire problem if he were to break it a second time.

Cool. The hero has a strong motivation not to be a gentleman if the heroine has a penchant for slapping faces at the drop of a slur.

Wicked. The heroine is expecting a long haired, tanned, muscular, gorgeous hunk to swagger up the aisle on her royal shotgun wedding day. How will she react when some bald, starved, pale, weedy guy limps towards her? He looks like he's been starved and torturing into marrying her!

So, she refuses to marry him. Duh! That doesn't make them any less embarrassing and inconvenient. Royal "face" has been lost all round. So they have to be marooned somewhere until they go with the flow. Shall we give them all the mod cons? I think not. No buried cache of smugglers' rum. No fully loaded airplane full of supplies. Life is not a picnic!

Shoot them down in the sea. Wet her one and only dress. Make it shrink so she can't get out of it without help. Have it rain to keep her dress wet. Do like Mythbusters and the story of the shrinking jeans. Get in a cold bath in a tight dress, and discover the difficulties of undressing afterwards.

And then, there's the "Survivorman" stuff of day-to-day living... (If you have very good eyes, you can see that Survivorman, Les Stroud gave me the cover quote on Insufficient Mating Material). And that's not all by a long shot.

I haven't begun (in this particular blog) to get serious about the twin paradox, collapsing wormholes, unstable systems, scram jets, and governmental red tape.

Research can snowball, and I haven't even scratched the surface.

Rowena Cherry
Insufficient Mating Material


  1. Sure you can have a romantic hero with a broken jaw. Think of it as a challenge. :) If you want kissing to be involved, however, better have the jaw completely healed before the end of the story.

    In 1988 my husband hit the windshield of a car with his face and shattered his jaw. (No other injuries except a few bruises. Weird and amazing.) The jaw was wired for two months. Several years later, he had it re-broken and re-set to correct problems caused by the first, hasty surgery. A man with a wired jaw can do anything he could otherwise except eat solid food and enjoy kissing. (You would be astonished at what a variety of different foods can be reduced to puree, though.) Talking isn't a big problem. One apparently gets used to the limitation of not being able to open one's mouth. He was even talking on the phone in connection with his job a couple of weeks after the wiring was done. Two problems he mentioned, one significant and one relatively trivial -- trouble breathing immediately after the surgery, and the later realization that he'd never noticed how much he used his tongue in normal circumstances.

    The shape of his jaw did change a little, but he looks fine. If anything, his teeth are probably better aligned than they were before the ordeal.

    In an alien or futuristic culture, you can always "cheat" by having a fast-healing technology available that doesn't exist here and now. In present-day medicine, your unfortunate broken-jaw patient will have to wear braces for many months after the wires come off.

    This topic reminds me of a discussion on one of my lists: Will most romance editors and publishers accept a handicapped hero or heroine? Consensus is that most will, depending on how it's handled. The question of what handicaps, if any, would disqualify a character from hero status hasn't been delved into. (In THE BONE MAN and its sequels, the quadriplegic hero has an intense love relationship with the heroine, who assists him in his cases. But those are detective novels, with the romance as a secondary plot.)

  2. I don't see conflict (and, therefore, plot) in any of that. Only complications. Love grows over the course of a couple dealing with complications. And that's good. Still, it's not conflict (and, therefore, plot.)

    I agree with Margaret that a romantic hero can have a broken jaw. In fact, it can be incredibly romantic because it would require the heroine to love him selflessly. Selfless lovers are fabulous lovers. Now, there could be conflict (and, therefore, plot.) Either the heroine is too shallow and selfish to love such a man, or she grows and becomes a selfless lover and stands with her man through hell and highwater. That's an Intimate Adventure, I think.

    But, then, I'm just a novice and a dullard. I'd be curious to know what Jacqueline says.