How a small community can smother your characters

As a contemporary romance writer, I know that series set in small towns and tight-knit communities are insanely popular.

But there’s also a danger that, as a series grows, those communities can begin to smother the vibrancy of later novels and their characters.

This isn’t just a danger with small-town contemporary romance. It can happen in any series that focuses on a particular community, whether that’s the ton in Regency romance or a fantastical world completely of the author’s creation.

Here are the ways communities can alienate me, the reader, and my thoughts on how to avoid it.

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Discovering the book you wish you’d written

A few weeks ago, I sat down to read a book by a new-to-me author that’s coming out soon. The premise had sounded intriguing, but to be honest, I’d requested it along with about a dozen others so by the time I started reading it I couldn’t even remember what it was supposed to be about.

So I read. And I read. And soon I started thinking, “Holy crap, why didn’t I write this book!”

Just to be clear, I don’t think I could’ve actually written this book, for many reasons. It doesn’t have a similar plot to any of my stories. The characters are very different from mine. It’s not even the same subgenre I write.

But it’s set in the same sort of world I’ve worked in for years, a world I’ve researched backwards and forwards and spent countless hours writing about for my day job: the world of major disasters.

The book I wish I’d written is Hot Zone by Catherine Mann. And this is how I tried to console myself for not having written it.

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Sarah Mayberry interview – and giveaway!

Sarah MayberryLast year, after reading loads of buzz online about a couple of Harlequin Superromance authors, I bit into my book-buying budget and ordered about a dozen Superromance novels.

Why was this expensive? Because they wouldn’t ship to me in London, so I had to have them sent to my parents’ house and then reimburse my mom for shipping a big heavy box to London.

Worth it?

Oh God yes!

In that box, I discovered two new favorite authors: Sarah Mayberry and Karina Bliss. Sarah Mayberry has a new release out this month—All They Need—and she’s giving away two copies here. Huzzah!

Thanks for being here, Sarah!

Thanks for inviting me. I always love talking about writing and reading – two of my most favourite things in all the world.

1. In addition to writing romance, you also write for TV, including the insanely popular Australian soap Neighbours. What skills have you developed through writing scripts that carry over into writing novels? And what’s the craziest storyline you’ve ever developed for Neighbours?

One Good ReasonI actually credit Neighbours with helping me develop me the story chops that led to me getting published. Before I’d worked on the story table, I had made something like 8 different attempts at writing a romance novel, all of which had been rejected.

Then I worked at Neighbours and helped plot a long term, slow burn romance between two of the characters and I suddenly understood what I’d been doing wrong.

Working on Neighbours also taught me to love planning and plotting my books in advance. A lot of romance writers are “pantsers” – ie they write by the seat of their pants and what happens next is as much of a surprise to them as it is to the reader. But Neighbours taught me to love thinking about the story and teasing out the nuances of the story before sitting down to actually write it.

It also taught me to love thinking about character. I always try to build layered, multi-dimensional characters who feel real and who you can believe existed before they walked onto the set (or onto the page) and who will continue to exist after the show ends (or the last page is read).  That’s something we spent a lot of time on on the show – talking through who people were and what they wanted and what their strengths and weaknesses were before throwing them into the mix.

As for the craziest storyline… I wasn’t actually working in-house at the time, but I can remember there was a storyline where Paul Robinson, the show’s current big baddy, and his daughter, Elle, arranged to have one of the other character’s delivery van blown up. I’m actually not sure if that story ever made it to air – my memory has become a little hazy over the years. As storylines go, it was a little out there for a show set on suburban cul-de-sac. But I guess far weirder things have happened on Desperate Housewives!

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Kristan Higgins interview – and giveaway!

Kristan HigginsWhile I was preparing for this interview, I cruised on over to Kristan’s website and stalked her did some research into her life. I clicked on the link to her blog and ended up spending TWO HOURS reading her posts.

I’ve never spent that long on anyone’s blog before – not even mine.

Kristan’s novels have the same effect on me. They suck me in and don’t let go until I’ve sobbed my way through the happily-ever-after. If you like romance featuring strong, quirky families, lots of dogs and even more smooching, Kristan Higgins is your gal.

Thanks for taking the time to answer my questions, Kristan, and for giving away a copy of your latest release, UNTIL THERE WAS YOU!

Absolutely my pleasure, Kat!

1. One of countless things I love about your books is the strong sense of community you build. It makes me think that living in a small town must kick city-life’s ass. Is there anything bad about life in a small town (I ask this as someone who’s moving from London to the vast emptiness of the northern Netherlands, so please say no)? How do your communities challenge your characters and help them grow?

All I Ever WantedAnything bad about a small town? Er, um, of course not! Small town life is perfect! Especially if you love people knowing you perhaps a bit better than  you’d like, eating at the same restaurant over and over and over, being viewed as exactly the same person you were when you were thirteen and threw up in math class, no, there’s not one drawback!

I think life in a small town challenges my characters to be more than they were back when they were puking in Mr. Eddy’s class. But there’s an intimacy and caring that’s very evident in a small town; a person gets hurt, and there’s a spaghetti supper to raise money for medical costs.

I do think that’s true in big cities, too; cities are nothing more than a bunch of different neighborhoods, but there’s something about a small town that invites personal interaction.

2. Most of your novels are written in the first person from the heroine’s point of view, but UNTIL THERE WAS YOU is told in third person and lets us see things from the hero’s perspective too. What made you decide to switch things up for this one?

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Ten tips on writing characters with accents, by Rose Lerner

Rose LernerAnyone who’s read one of Rose Lerner’s novels (In for a Penny and A Lily Among Thorns) will know that her characters come from a wide range of backgrounds. Rose is a master at writing accents so a reader can hear her characters’ distinctive voices.

She’s very generously written this post on how she writes characters with different accents. Let us know how you deal with characters’ accents in the comments!

Hi everyone! Kat already wrote a great post about how I used accents in In for a Penny and a really awesome post on writing accents generally…I’ll try not to repeat myself, or her!

British people pay a lot of attention to accents. People from different regions and different social classes have marked differences in speech, and everyone is very conscious of that fact. Of course this is true in the States as well, but I really don’t think the degree is comparable.

I can think of several British memoirs off the top of my head that extensively discuss accents, either by referencing others’ accents by specific type or talking about the memoirist’s own accent (poor Roger Moore practically had a complex about not sounding posh enough!), and anyone remember that Monty Python sketch where no one can understand the rural accents and slang at the airfield?

So if, like me, you tend to write romances that have major characters from a variety of places and social classes, paying attention to accents is important. Here are a few guidelines and tips for how I do it:

1. I never write an accent phonetically.

Writing a particular word phonetically because its pronunciation is so different or it’s unique to a particular accent, okay. Writing all a character’s dialogue that way, no. Apart from being sometimes confusing for the reader, I’m going to come right out and say that I think this is rude.

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