Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Writer's Wednesday: The Masks We Wear

Harlequin Romance author Nina Harrington joins us today with a wonderful post about breaking down barriers - and finding a happy ending!

Every romance writer I know seems to hold a fundamental and apparently intrinsic optimism that real, lasting and true love is possible.

The love of your life is not only out there , but when you find him or her, that person will love you for who you really are. No matter what characteristics you display to the world – that person will take the time to find out who you truly are and love who you are.

In life we all know people who are not what they seem. And perfection does not come into the equation.

So in our writing we want to create a love story which is so powerful that it will break down the barriers our characters have created to protect themselves from pain so that both out hero and heroine will find love as a reward for the battle they have to go through to win the prize.

Every character has a public face or persona which does not represent the inner self or true identity of the person, but is more of a disguise or protective outer shell they have created to project a specific image of themselves to the world.

In real life we all do this through our choices of clothing, accessories, hair, and the choices we make in our life and work and how we want the world to see us.

This carefully constructed public facade is the first impression or image the reader has about the character – and they have to accept the character's attitudes and actions at face value.

During the course of the story it is then the writer’s task to create dilemmas, choices, actions and reactions which will cause this surface veneer to be stripped away by bit, revealing that character’s most authentic self.

The character arc will not be a linear process of simple step by step change, but more of a two steps forward, one step back process, where the character resists change which is painful – especially when it is linked to the fear of revealing the very thing they have been trying to conceal.

One classic example would be the professional businesswoman with the elegant designer clothing and glossy slick accessories who strides into the room, head high, in impossibly high heels, confident and professional in every way.

Except that underneath this calm and cool exterior, she is quaking and desperate to conceal her traumatic poor childhood. This woman has had to fight every step of the way to what she has achieved, but what happens when she is faced with someone who knew her and her past and has the power to influence her future?

What happens when she is thrown into turmoil and has to change to survive? What choices does she make and how does that make her an interesting character?

Will the reader have any empathy or sympathy for her situation if they only see the external facade?

And what is the reward for being forced to expose your deep fears and hidden past?

Being loved for who you are as your true self.

The Hero or Heroine falls in love with the essence of who the character is. And is loved back in return. And that has to be worth the pain in getting there.

This is the situation the heroine of my latest Mills and Boon RIVA line book, ‘The Last Summer of Being Single’ finds herself in. Ella Martinez has made a home for herself and her young son in a French farmhouse in the Languedoc after the death of her estranged husband.

Ella may work as a housekeeper, but she is a trained pianist and singer, who spent most of her early life as a nomadic professional musician. She has had to fight hard to give her son a home in opposition to his grandparents, but that has meant sacrificing her own life and dreams.

Then into her world comes Sebastien Castellano, the stepson of the owner of the house where she works, who will challenge her life and her future in ways she had never expected. Seb thinks that his media company merger is the one thing that will bring him happiness but beneath the masks of a slick millionaire businessman lies a teenage boy whose life was riddled with heartache and loss and unanswered questions.

Their time together in the sunflowers and vineyards of the South of France will make both Ella and Sebastian reveal their authentic selves as they fall in love with the person beneath the facade.

‘The Last Summer of Being Single’ is released in February as a RIVA title and in March as a Harlequin Romance title. You can catch Nina at her site, !


  1. Your information about how the internal life of the character creates empathy is fabulous. And I love how the hero/heroine must peel back the masks they wear in order to discover true love.

    Is the emotional journey/inner conflict more important in your stories? How much does external plot impact their journey and their journey toward each other and their happily ever after?


  2. Thank you Christine - I am delighted that you found the post useful. And what a terrific question!
    Overall I would say yes, the inner conflict is the most important part of the journey of the hero and heroine to love. Because I write for the Mills and Boon Romance and RIVA lines, the readers expect the stories to be very character driven. The character arcs of the hero and heroine come from their reaction to the dilemma and external conflict which brings them together at the start, and which could force them apart later, even though they have changed.
    They should be proactive, but at the start I love characters to be in turmoil. Their lives are a mess and they have serious conflicts about what is happening. Through the course of coming to terms with that situation and responding and taking action- they are also working to protect themselves from the pain of their emotional conflict - with themselves and also with one another.
    A useful way of looking at this is through the 'Conflict Box' that Jennifer Crusie uses to make sure that the couple are linked in a conflict where the goal of one person is the barrier to the goal of the other person. For example, lets say two people each inherit a 50% share in an old movie theatre. She wants to save the old theatre from being knocked down and restore it as a museum, he wants to build a residential home for local senior citizens within the art deco frame.
    But why do they really want to do these things? WHY does she really, really, want to restore the place? And WHY does he really, really want to create a special place for dementia sufferers.
    See what I mean.
    External and internal linked - but they will fall in love with the person because of their need and motivation.
    Hope that help.