Thursday, August 31, 2006

Teaching to learn - Heroines to cheer for

Story Essentials – Continued

Right after a strong opening hook on the editor’s wish list was a heroine the reader cheers for; she should be appealing and human.

Six examples of heroine introductions from the already read pile:

Across the small chamber, Rowena Belleme watched. She also was being held fast by two men-at-arms, the same two who had dragged her in here to witness her stepbrother’s brutality. Blood trickled down the center of her chin from biting her lips to keep from screaming. Tears fell copiously over ashen cheeks. But she had not been struck herself. Like as not it would come to that if she did not give in to her stepbrother’s demands after this demonstration of his seriousness., but while his patience held, he did not want to blacken her with bruises that would elicit comment at her wedding.

Lots of information packed into a paragraph. The author has wasted no words on hair color or any physical description. Her heroine is being forced to watch something (from the prior paragraph the reader knows a small woman is being beaten) upsetting by a cruel stepbrother. The stepbrother is likely demanding she marry someone odious.

The first paragraph discussed another woman. When the second paragraph also introduces a woman for a minute I struggle to figure out who’s who. Since the women are important to each other and both facing perils I read on and soon all becomes clear. But the story choice of opening with a secondary character does mean a shaking start for the romance reader who has been trained to look for the protagonists up front.

He never saw any pouty lips, just a smile tipped up at him natural as sunshine. He never saw a short skirt. He wished he did. He hoped the lady was at least wearing shorts, but he couldn’t be sure. She’d covered her upper torso with a voluminous wrinkled yellow shirt that flapped around her thighs, and her feet were as bear as her long, brown legs. Maybe she’d brushed her hair last night, and the scrubbed face had freckles.

She’s appealing, human and she scores a bonus for having surprised the hero. The story is just beginning, but the reader is off to good start. This story starts from the hero’s POV and lends weight to my theory books with a hefty percentage of hero’s POV are heroine centered stories.

The vision came without warning, a door bursting open in her mind.

Frightened blue eyes, red-rimmed from crying.
Freckled cheeks, smudged with tears and dirt.
Red-hair, tangled and sweat-darkened.
A terrified cry. “Daddy help me.”

Lily Browning pressed her fingers against her temples and squeezed her eyes closed. Explosions of light and pain raced through her head like arcs of tracer fire. Around her, a thick grey mist swirled. Moisture beaded on her brow, grew heavy and slid down her cheek.

What do we know so far? Our assumed heroine is a woman with a frightening problem caught by forces beyond her control – certainly an intriguing introduction.

What the hell am I doing here?

Simon Byrne knew exactly. Postponing what he ought to be doing. And ogling the woman he’d avoided for over two years. She didn’t notice him at the Technical Support Lab door because whatever gizmo she was fooling with had her mesmerized.

Janna Harris a nondescript pants suit, the type she’d adopted after her marriage. No more short skirts or cropped tops that bared skin. Professional, she’d insisted.

Being a patient reader I’ll read on. But all I’m getting out of this opening is this is a reunion romance. She’s a techno wiz who used to be more fun before her marriage. Has the author convince me her heroine is appealing? Not yet. She’s human, yes but not in an attractive or sympathetic way.

Christie sat in the far corner of her living room with her back jammed against the wall. Milo, her golden Lab, whined softly against her as she stared at the phone on the end table, willing the ringing to stop.

One short paragraph and I’m hooked. If I were critiquing I’d suggest crouched or else give her something to sit on – but as a reader I race on to the next paragraph to learn more already drawn into the heroine’s story. Why? She’s frightened. The phone has become an instrument of torture. She has a dog that loves her. A whole exciting situation is set up in a matter of a few short sentences.

Through the smoke his gaze narrowed, then settled, on a woman with a mass of auburn curls hanging halfway down her back. A breeze picked up her hair and lifted it about her shoulders. He didn’t need to see her face to know who stood in Ann Morrison Park stretching her arms upward like a goddess worshiping the grey sky.

Once again the heroine is introduced by the hero. His description, lean as it is makes her sound appealing. The unasked questions pile up. Why is he watching her? What’s she doing there? At this point in the story the reader knows the hero is a detective and she’s most likely a suspect. Since she’s the heroine she must be innocent and therefore is instantly sympathetic. Who has never been wrongly suspected?

Tapping into the reader’s own wellspring of human emotion is the key to building the special story bond between writer and reader.


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