Nope, I'm not talking about hot sex scenes. They're a given. This is about putting together the skeleton of a story that will intrigue potential readers/buyers. Dare I say the word synopsis?
Let's not. That's a pretty scary word, at least to me! Let's just build the framework: the person around whom you're going to build a story--a hero if you will. What dominant impression do you want him to convey? Give him a stated goal and a plausible reason for having that goal. Then toss in a stumbling block that will stand in the way of getting or keeping whatever is important to him. Don't worry now about his hidden (inner) goals, motivation or conflict. Time for that will come later.
Now you need to give him a romantic interest. She may be the stumbling block that stands in the way of him getting what he wants, or she may be a second focal character with an agenda that's at odds with his own. On the surface, these two characters seem absolutely wrong for each other, but they'll fit together perfectly after they've grown emotionally during the story. Their strengths and weaknesses will mesh, forming a team stronger than either of them would be separately. And the sexual chemistry between them will sizzle from the first and drive a lot of the action in the book.
Okay. You've got two hot-blooded, sexually adventuresome characters (or more, although the third is usually an extension of one or the other main characters). You have to bring them together--have them do something meaningful and interesting to readers. There are only so many ways to do this, and they've been done thousands of times before. Do they come together to revenge a wrong? To find emotional connections they doubt exist? To get something of value that the other party owns?
What plot line fits your characters best? What is it that they think they want, and is there something deeper behind their stated motivations?
Forgive me for using an example that's not common to erotic romance but one that I dissected for a workshop several years ago. It shows how I built the framework of a story around two characters and a situation that puts them at odds.
Trey is a cocky rodeo cowboy who wants to win the nationals because it will prove he's the best, but the injuries he's nursing have put a kink in his plans. Enter Dinah, a sweetie of a barrel racer who wants Trey to take responsibility for their kid now that she's pregnant, because she loves the guy and believes every kid deserves a daddy. Unfortunately, settling down is the last thing on Trey's agenda. Okay. This gives me a framework for a reunion story, or maybe a semi-secret baby book.
Okay. How will I hook the reader? The announcement that Trey's going to be a daddy certainly will change his life, in spades. Since Dinah's life has already changed, I'll open in his head, with him in bed, in traction, pretty much at her mercy. He's going to balk, but since he's a hero he'll give in and marry Dinah. And she'll surprise him. He had no idea how hot a pregnant woman could be.
As Trey recovers, the real conflict develops. In spite of warnings from the doctors, he's going back on the rodeo circuit. Dinah wants a husband and father, not a vegetable or a corpse. This is a moot point until their daughter is born and Trey is well enough to practice, but when he refuses to give up his dream, Dinah leaves. Faced with losing the woman and child he has grown to love, Trey realizes they're more important to him than fame, so he goes after them and they live happily ever after.
So what do I have here? The skeleton of a story. Let me show you an exercise that will demonstrate how many directions a single story framework could take:
Trey is still our hero, but let's generalize a bit. He's not a rodeo cowboy but an arrogant warrior who wants to win the (battle/war/award/fight), because winning will prove he's the best at what he does; but he's wounded badly enough that his recovery is in question. Dinah is his lover and/or his healer who may or may not be pregnant but wants him to love her and marry her because she loves him.
In my example, I put the lovers in a contemporary setting. Generalized, though, they could fit in the Old West, medieval England or anywhere men seek victory through violence.
The contemporary setting could as easily be a courtroom such as the one in my Ellora's Cave novel, IN HIS OWN DEFENSE, where the hero is battling to win a case that will bring him fame and fortune while the heroine wants him to back off. (Incidentally, I built an entire series around lawyers as heroes—the Lawyers in Love series is on sale now until April 4, only at Ellora's Cave.)
Also in the vein of what’s on sale, the heroes could be dedicated doctors fighting against death and disease whose heroines are fellow doctors, patients or just hot BDSM lovers whose common goals are to be mastered. If you’re a BDSM fan, check out the four novellas in the Club Rio Brava series while they’re 20% off until April 4 at the EC web site.
Possibilities for stories based on a very simple basic structure are limited only by authors’ imagination, which is so infinitely variable that there’s little chance of telling the same story or creating cardboard characters—so long as the story situation and the settings mesh with the basic characteristics of the story people.
I love to hear your comments! Check out my website and be on the lookout for upcoming contests: http://annjacobs.net.