The Good, the Bad and Robin Hood
Sorry to be a little late in my first post. I could blame it on the time difference but, actually, it's because last night I was appearing at the London Writers' Cafe and I got on the train and suddenly had that sinking feeling ... I had prepared my post but not posted it.
Which brings me to a salient point: I'm British. That means I will use UK English spellings rather than US. :yes: Just make allowances for me.
So, here we are.
Thank you for joining this seminar. The Webmistress is pleased with the take up and I hope you're going to enjoy my stuff. As well as being a novelist, I write short stories, serials and articles and and I'm a creative writing tutor and have written a 'how to' book called Love Writing - How to Make Money Writing Romantic or Erotic Fiction. I know, from my experience, that there is a wealth of material out there about the basics of writing but that sometimes the nuances are neglected. And it's the nuances that can really take your writing on to the next level.
I'm going to begin with my hot favourite - character.
Let's assume that you know how to create a character. The next step should be to decide: What is your character's function in your story?
What it is useful to remember is that you need to be able to identify your character's function because characters will automatically be categorised in the reader’s mind as a ‘goodie’ or a ‘baddie’. Why does this matter to you? Because you need to bear in mind your reader's expectation in order to cast your character in the correct role.
Look at your story and decide:
• which characters are intended to be sympathetic? (Sympathetic = the reader likes them. This is the Goodie.)
• which unsympathetic? (Unsympathetic = the reader doesn't like them. This is the Baddie.)
• what will the characters learn?
• will the reader feel satisfaction at a comeuppance or joy at a hopeful ending?
I think it helps to write with focus to know what one is writing to achieve. If Goodie is really the goodie then s/he will achieve his or her goal by the end of the book. Which is why you need to know what the character will learn. Baddie will be thwarted and frustrated - and you will have fun making certain that this is so.
If you get Goodie and Baddie mixed up you won't just confuse or mislead your readers - something you often want to do, especially if you write romantic suspense - you will make your reader toss down your book and say, 'Pah!' Making readers say, 'Pah!' is a bad thing. It means you've lost them.
Of course, you may want your readers to think that Character A is Goodie until he shows his bad side ... If you do that, make certain that you leave him or her a way from the Good Side to the Bad Side. If you have correctly identified Character A from the start, this will be a breeze and you'll be able to leave the reader loads of signposts so that they don't feel cheated.
In real life people are seldom all good or all bad. In romantic fiction, we reflect this - for the sake of plausibility (and to avoid 'Pah!') Goodie should have some human flaws and Baddie should have some redeeming features.
But, as well as Goodie and Baddie, there's a third option. A Robin Hood character.
Robin Hood lives with outlaws, he acts like an outlaw, yet we never think of him as a baddie (although he is a thief) as his motive is so good: he robs the rich to help the poor. If we examine this idea more closely we’re saying that it’s OK to rob people who have something to be robbed of, regardless of whether it’s their fault that others have nothing. Few of us would feel this in real life – but Robin captivates us with his larky character and his conviction that he’s doing something good, even when he isn’t.
Robin Hood makes a great hero in romantic fiction. He'll make us laugh, he'll drive the heroine crazy, his flexible morals will get them both in more conflict than you thought possible, just because he isn't a cookie-cutter hero. He's naughty but he's nice. But, at the bottom of him, he's good. Pretty much. Mostly.
So you really, really need to make certain that he's not the Sheriff of Nottingham. He's definitely a baddie.
Learn to recognise the difference between Goodie, Baddie and Robin Hood and your characters will fulfill their roles in your book, effortlessly.