Friday, November 18, 2011

A Date With Kate - Why Writing Romance is a Lot Like Preparing For Christmas!

OK, at last, reluctantly, I’m prepared to admit it – Christmas is coming.  I don’t usually like to even start thinking about December 25th until it’s actually December. The day I put up the Advent Calendar is the start of it for me. (What? Yes of course I have an Advent Calendar – well, the cats do. Anne McAllister sent them one some years ago and every year she sends treats to fill it. Sadly  this year the Great Cat  Sid won’t be here to share in the special ‘Greenies’ but Flora and Charlie will eat extra in memory of  him.) I like the run up to the event be just those few weeks, the anticipation building  pretty fast – not a slow, long drawn out  look ahead that seems to date from the minute Bonfire Night is over.  But today I had to visit York and while I was there I spotted a couple of perfect gifts so – well, I have now officially started preparing for the big day.

And it made me think that being a writer is a lot like preparing for Christmas. Well, writing a book – particularly a category romance novel  -  has a lot of similarities with just that.  Just as it is for Christmas, so much of it is totally traditional, totally predictable – everyone knows just what is going to happen. But that doesn’t mean you can just sit back and let it develop totally randomly – or, worse, too predictably.  You spend ages just thinking about it. Thinking and planning. If you're like me, you make a list, or rather lists, and check them more than twice.

A list of characters and their backgrounds, their families and friends. Christmas is always about families and friends. The ones you love and want to see a lot of - like your hero and heroine. And the ones who always cause trouble and start arguments, maybe drink a little too much - the villain or the 'other woman' - but you have to invite them anyway.  The truth is that, just as with Christmas, it’s the people who make things special. All the trimmings, the trappings, the gifts, the food – they’re nothing without that someone special to share it. And by thinking of the people you’re going to ‘visit’ in your story you find you can soon come up with those little extra special touches that will make the whole thing run smoothly – and create a fabulous atmosphere, a truly special event.

The next list is a list of conflicts and problems that you are going to throw in the way of your characters. There are always problems and hitches in the run up to Christmas. The special toys that the little ones want but the shop has run out of them already. The awkward brother who you just don't know what to buy for him.  The conflicts in a romance novel have to have rather more depth than that – they need to be the sort of thing that can upset the potential for happiness completely.  Things that can’t just be solved with one balanced – or even one angry conversation.  Family feuds have started at Christmas – there are always other people to be considered, different traditions, different dreams. And that sense of the special occasion always makes the differences feel so much worse. That’s the way that the conflict builds, deepens, becomes more potentially destructive. Set conflict against a background of happiness and joy – for everyone else – and you get a wonderful contrast that really pulls at the heartstrings.

A list of settings, houses, countries, perhaps even, in Presents novels, a palace and a penthouse. You have to know who is going to be where and when so that you can get everyone together if you want to - or, alternatively, arrange for some much needed private time so that you/your characters can . . . . spend a little quality time together!

A list of all the nice little things that will also happen. After all your hero and heroine are going to fall in love so there has to be some reasons why this is going to happen. Some special meals together with really nice food and drink. And all this involves planning and scheming, organising and thinking, to make sure it happens. Yes, there is always a traditional set of events, a dinner that has almost exactly the same contents year after year – but just as in life, so in  a novel. No one wants everything to be so exactly the same that you can predict what you’ll be doing at every minute of the day. A romance novel has so many of the same ‘ingredients’ time and time again, but it takes a little imagination, an added flair – a new spin – to turn those traditional elements into a new ‘recipe’ that has all the flavour and delight of the sort of thing you always have – but with a new twist that makes it all fresh and deliciously new.
Once your lists are written, all the planning done, then you start to work through them. And this is where the fun often starts. You often find that you have to keep changing things and adjusting, altering as you go along. Your heroine has decided - without telling you - that she's going to have a different job, a new name, that she won't go here or there . . and you have to make different arrangement to make sure she does even meet up with her hero.

The plot you've decided on doesn't quite 'fit' and you have to go looking for something different to fill the empty spaces, all in good time for the deadline when you have to have everything ready.

The setting - that wonderful palace you were going to make sure that everyone met in, has been overbooked - everyone's been using that setting recently - so you're looking for somewhere else. Somewhere warm and lovely that can fit all the characters you want to collect together.

And all the time the Big Day ( your deadline ) is getting closer and closer. You find yourself thinking about nothing else all day long. You work on your preparations/your writing all day, every day it seems. You get up early, go to bed late, but no matter how hard you try, you still find yourself wrapping or cooking - or slamming out words - in a rush on the very last day.

But at last, finally, somehow it all gets done. You get to Christmas day/the end of your deadline and all you have to do is to cook the dinner (or press 'SEND' on the email of your manuscript) and sit back and relax. You can have a glass of wine - or two - forget about work and word counts etc for a while. And you can look around and think how great it is that everything turned out well in the end.

Or at least you hope you can until your editor gets back to you with her 'tweaks' and revisions - which is rather like finding that the brand new gadget you were given doesn't work right or the underwear was in the wrong size and you have to take it back to the shop . . .

But hopefully these will only be minor hitches and you'll soon be able to say when anyone asks, 'Oh yes, I had a wonderful time - it was such fun!' (You always soon forget the stress and hassle when you look back at your memories). At least that's the way it is for  me - for Christmas and for writing the book!

Which reminds me  .. .  I  have a dreadline to meet before Christmas . . . .!
This post is  still part of my  big Blog Tour that I’m doing to celebrate the publication of The Return of The Stranger. There are still some stops along the way, with new posts, some about writing, some about what ever I managed to think of to write at the time! .
These posts will also introduce you to lots of interesting blogs all over the internet. Ther'e are still lots of giveaways - and a final  prize draw just  in time for Christmas. You can find the full blog itinerary over on the great Author Page that Nas Dean from Romance Book Paradise who has been helping me with this has set up for me. There’s the list of all the blogs I’ll be visiting – and there may be a few more yet along the way! I hope you’ll join me as I travel all over the blog universe!
And there's a giveaway here today too - just leave  a comment, telling me  how you're getting on wiht your  Christmas plannning - have you started yet? Finished? Made a  list? Not even thought about it?     And I'll get Charlie the Maine Coon to pick me a winner   who can choose one of my backlist novels as a prize .
Kate's book, The Return of the Stranger is available now in Presents EXTRA, Mills & Boon Modern  and Mills & Boon Sexy in Australia.
You can read all her most up to date news on her web site and her blog

Announcing the winner -

Sorry to be late with this - Charlie went roaming and has only just condescended to come home and pick some winners for me

And here he has picked Kaelee

Congrats Kaelee - you can choose from the  list of backlist book I've posted in Comments


  1. I've just barely started. I have 1 gift and started baking.

  2. Hi Kate,

    I loved your post. I'm in the early stages of a book and the Christmas analogy worked for me. Lots to think about there. On the home front I'm thinking I should start thinking about Christmas...!

  3. Hi Kate ~ I've basically got my shopping done but I don't have a lot of it to do. I need to get started on sending out my cards and getting some baking done. The baking takes a bit of planning as I don't want to be tempted into eating too much of it before hand and have to do more.

    Just wanted to tell you how much I enjoyed The Return of the Stranger. I've never read Wuthering Heights so I can't relate to that story. I did think that Heath was a very strong hero as are all your heroes. I loved his relationship with Harry. Heath wanted to take a bit of revenge on Harry's father and uncle by marriage but didn't extend that to Harry. There was a lot of passion in this book which made for a riveting read that I couldn't put down.

  4. Hi Chey - I'd barely started too until yesterday when I found some lovely gifts. No baking yet though - if I started baking now it would all get eaten before Christmas!

  5. Hi Annie - I'm glad you liked the post. So much of women's lives seems to be lists and planning, doesn't it? I reminded myself about the plans I need for my own book too. And I just started thinking about Christmas - I always find it strange though thinking of my lovely Aussie fiends (and my sister) celebrating in the sunshine!

  6. Hi Kaelee - I totally understand abot the baking, as I said to Chey, if I started on that too soon it would all disappear before the big day arrived. When my son was younger I usually ended up doing 2 batches - one to eat now and one to keep for Christmas!

    I'm so glad you enjoyed The Return of The Stranger - you're someone who proves that it does stand alone and you don't have to have read WH to enjoy it. I loved writing Heath's relationship with Harry and for me it was important that he didn't go too far in his revenge by taking it out on Harry, who was, asfter all, an innocent. That would have stopped Heath being a hero for me

  7. I'm actually doing very well with my Christmas shopping & planning. I mailed my last postal gift today. It should arrive in time to go under the tree.

    The food preparations can wait a few weeks yet.



  8. Marybelle - you're so organised! I have presents to post - but I need to wrap them first!

    The food is definitely going to have to wait!

    And I need to find Charlie!

  9. Sorry to be late with this - Charlie went roaming and has only just condescended to come home and pick some winners for me

    And here he has picked Kaelee

    Congrats Kaelee - you can choose from this list of backlist books:

    The Greek Tycoon’s Unwilling Wife
    Bedded By The Greek Billionaire
    Sicilian Husband, Blackmailed Bride
    The Sicilian’s Red-Hot Revenge
    The Good Greek Wife?
    Kept for Her Baby
    The Konstantos Marriage Demand
    Cordero’s Forced Bride
    Spanish Billionaire, Innocent Wife
    The Proud Wife