Character v Plot
When I first started writing, I thought that each book would get easier than the last. In fact, in my experience the direct opposite is the case because with every book I challenge myself to do better. And with every book, I’ve also found that there’s a key lesson to be learned as a writer. Rake with a Frozen Heart taught me that character has to come before plot.
Right from the start, I had a very clear picture of the opening scene of Henrietta and Rafe’s story, with my heroine unconscious in a ditch on my hero’s estate. I was reading Lucy Moore’s excellent book Con Men and Cutpurses at the time, and was enthralled by the seamier side of the Regency it depicted. The dark and dangerous world of London’s rookeries was almost on the doorstep of the opulence and luxury of the haute ton. I found this contrast fascinating, and I was determined to include it in my story, which meant I had to have a crime.
Another project I’d been working on (shelved, for the moment anyway) was set during the French Revolution. Many of the crown jewels disappeared during this time, including the legendary Bleu de France, part of which is now reputed to be the cursed Hope diamond. Wouldn’t it be great, I thought, if I could somehow incorporate this bit of research into my story too.
I came up with a plot so complicated that it made unravelling the Da Vinci Code seem like a piece of cake. But when I started to write it, I realised it left very little time for romance, and even more importantly, beyond throwing them together and expecting them to play the sleuth, I had no idea at all what made my hero and heroine tick, never mind why they would be perfect for each other.
I wrote the first three chapters and got stuck. Then I rewrote them and got stuck again. I showed them to my editor in the vain hope that I might be wrong, but she agreed. It just wasn’t working. Deflated, I put the whole lot away in a virtual drawer.
Funnily enough, it wasn’t the story, but my heroine who wouldn’t let me be. Over the next year, Henrietta came to life in my mind. A heroine who was different, flawed, and definitely not beautiful. Henrietta was well-intentioned but by no means always right. She was an innocent abroad, but she wasn’t naïve. She suffered badly from foot-in-the-mouth disease, but she was always true to herself, no matter how difficult the circumstances.
Once I had her fully-formed, so to speak, it was actually quite easy to find her a perfect hero. Henrietta was a bit of a crusader, so Rafe had to be a man with a past which made him a real challenge to save. With the complex plot stripped right back, finally I could write my story.
I learnt my lesson with Rake with a Frozen Heart – it’s fatal, in a romance, to put plot before characters. It was a tough one, and this book was a long time in the writing as a result, but it’s a lesson I certainly won’t forget in a hurry. What’s more, although I lost the story of the Bleu de France from this book, the research wasn’t in vain, because the diamond features in the opening chapter of my August release, Outrageous Confessions of Lady Deborah. So in a way, I eventually got two for one!
I think Henrietta and Rafe’s story was worth the pain. I hope you agree, and I have a signed copy of Rake with a Frozen Heart to give away so that at least one of you can decide for yourself. All you have to do is leave a comment, and I’ll pick a winner on Monday 30th April. Good luck.