Thursday, January 10, 2008

Writing Outside Your Comfort Zone - Pt. 1

Well, it seems winter is back. The last few days have given me more than a bit of spring fever. It was in the 60s on Monday, in the 70s on Tuesday, and dropped a little back to the 60s yesterday. Today it was 49. Sigh. Oh well, spring will get here eventually, I guess.

So, I've been thinking about my next project. Yes, I know there are still a few things on my desk that need to be dealt with, and I will, but that doesn't stop me from wondering about the next book. I take that as a good sign - I'm not out of ideas just yet.

But, as I've been pondering the next book, I've been thinking a lot about my previous ones. I think, once You Belong to Me and Eden's Pass are released, if I compared them to my earlier books, I'd (hopefully) see that I've grown a little with each story. That I've improved with each one.

Romance novels have a certain formula they need to follow (for the most part. The rules can and are broken, but usually by writers who've been around long enough for their publishers to relax a little about these authors taking chances) in order to even be considered publishable. The main one is the well-known HEA - Happily Ever After. This can be bent to Happy For Now, in some romance sub-genres (such as erotic romance), but there has to be some sort of promise of a future.

And for the most part, the formula is quite simple: Boy meet Girl. Boy wants Girl. Girl wants Boy. Something conspires to keep them apart. Boy gets Girl. They live Happily Ever After.

Seems pretty cut and dried, right?

Well, it is, but it's what happens between those plot points that can really make or break a romance novel. You can torture your characters as much as you want, for the most part. That's where you can really break all the rules and establish new ones. As long as you have a HEA, you're good.

So it's not necessarily that simple.

And that got me to thinking about my own books. I torture my characters, but not too much. At least, I never used to. But with each book, I find I have to achieve HEA differently. Who wants to read the same book over and over? Especially when it's supposed to be a different book. If Book 1 and Book 2 are alike, and followed by Books 3 and 4 being their clones, why should any reader even care about Book 6?

So with my next book, I've been thinking about heading into territory I haven't visited yet. I don't want to write the same ol' same ol', no matter how comfortable it is.

Aha - there it is - stepping outside of your comfort zone.

Now, in my books, I've dealt with abuse, betrayal, slavery - a few themes that have bordered on stepping out of the comfort zone. At times, certain parts weren't at all easy to write. But in the end, the book was better for it.

So now it's time to step out farther from my comfort zone. Create characters who are flawed and imperfect, who do and say things they might regret, and find out that their actions have some serious, and in some cases dire, consequences.

It isn't at all easy to do this, and keep these people likable. Perfect characters are so much easier because they are perfect. But they are boring.

In After the Storm - the hero is imperfect, both physically and emotionally, and he is one of the toughest characters I've ever had to write. At times he was too dark, too imperfect, and I found myself wondering what the heroine saw in him.

There's a delicate balance when you step outside your comfort zone, and sometimes, you slip and have to go back and fix it, whether it's a character who's too dark, or one who's too weak.

Going into a new project and thinking about tackling themes I haven't yet explored is scary. It's so much easier to write what you know, but it can get stale. I certainly don't want that to happen, so the time has come to push myself as a writer and see just how far outside that zone I can get. And hopefully, by the time that book is finished, I'll see yet more growth.

Next Installment: What is Your Comfort Zone and Why?

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