Good morning and welcome to Chaos of Theory of Writing! Today, our Visiting Professor has a split personality–Jade Lee and Kathy Lyons. The persona I got to know was Jade Lee. I met her through an RWA conference CD, and it was love at “first sight.” Yep, you heard me right. I listened to her Setting as Character workshop while putting on my makeup, while showering (talk about intimate!), and while driving to work. And there’s still more I need to absorb! So folks, get out your pen and paper or get ready to hit the print button ’cause you’re going to reference this article over and over. Please be sure to read on. Jade/Kathy has set this blog up to be interactive and fun! Oh, did I mention she’s generously giving away one of her books? 🙂
What do these three things have in common: a castle on a moonlit moor, the dining room on the Titanic, and a big Texas ranch next to a small Texas town? Well, nothing except that they are settings that immediately evoke a mood. And in romance, they also pull in a host of clichés. So how do you make your setting bring in mood, dimension, and realism to your story without resorting to badly done clichés?
By realizing that your characters aren’t just people moving around in your plot or your setting. They have internal drives that expand who they are. Buffy doesn’t just hunt vampires, she’s an adolescent who wants what adolescent girls do: popularity, a boyfriend, and the freedom to goof off and go shopping. So how is she going to react when she walks into the school library and sees all those dark corners in the stacks, the long wood tables covered with huge books, and a British librarian who is trying to hand her a sharpened stake? I know how I would react. My first thought would be that this is not the mall which is where I really want to be right now! It’s dark and dusty and filled with corners that have possibilities for making out if only I had a boyfriend! And if this horrible British guy with the glasses has his way, I never will have a boyfriend! I’ll be stuck here doing research until I look just like him! (In my world, adolescent girls always think in exclamation points!)
The same setting from Giles’ perspective (the British librarian) would reflect his internal drives for order, the need for adequate information to fight demons, and of course, the longing for a bit of Britain. So, when walking to this library, he would probably notice that it was too small to be adequate for their needs. He would look for a place to hide his weapons. And he would look at Buffy and think, what an air-head American blonde.
By the way, perceptive viewers might notice that the high school library doesn’t actually look like anything in California. They like sunlit breezy architecture out west. But as it is Giles’ domain, it’s more like a British Hogwarts library than any California high. And that brings me to my second point. Settings need to reflect whomever “owns” it. Time to start looking at your own characters. Each of your main characters needs a place that reflects him or her. Not just their primary task: catching a husband, running a ranch, or shooting the terrorist. It has to reflect their internal precepts.
Now that word “precepts” is awkward because most people don’t understand exactly what it means. In this context, it means the rules which drive them. For example, a historical husband hunting miss is focused on catching a man. But what if underneath all that need to find a husband is a belief that it’s not possible for her to find love. And to replace the void created by that hole, she’s developed an addiction to *insert hobby here*. It could be science or dress styles or dolls. It could be trying to control her brother or working on her garden. Whatever the hobby it has to be seen in her environment, but it also needs to reflect the underlying void. She grows roses because they are symbol of love. She controls her brother because if she can’t have love, she’s damn well going to have financial security. Or she creates stunning dress designs to make a woman beautiful enough to find love.
So how would her setting reflect that? Well, start at the top and work down. Something to indicate she’s on the hunt for a husband. That’s easy. Dresses, dance cards, whatever. Then add a huge area for whatever her hobby is. And then, lastly, insert something to hint at the underlying belief. She spends a lot of time putting together an arrangement of flowers for a couple who are in love. Beneath the science equipment is a gypsy love charm. Or she keeps her mother’s engagement ring hidden from her brother not because it’s valuable (he’ll hock it) but because her parents were really in love. And, naturally, the hero is the only one who sees that one thing. He’s the one who figures out her true thoughts.
I could go on with more examples, but I’ve only got so much room here. Just keep in mind that each setting needs to reflect its owner. That’s POINT 1 for those who need an outline! And then POINT 2 is that the POV character needs to see it per his/her own peculiar precepts. Entering our heroine’s hobby place, our hero sees what? Well, first ask: what are his internal precepts? Maybe it’s that women do not have logical minds, therefore he would see every bit of clutter beneath the orderly scene. And he will pounce upon whatever little tidbit it is that reflects her need for love, then hold it up as proof that underneath she is a silly, romantic noddycock. Or if he believes that the land based lifestyle of the British elite is fading, then he might look at all her beautiful roses and think she’s doomed to poverty within a generation. After all, beautiful ladies who spend their days gardening will fade away unless their husbands shift their money to factory investments.
Okay, that’s it for the boring stuff. Now I’ll go to my super secret shortcut (also known as POINT 3). Yes, I really do have a shortcut because my brain can only hold so much. With details of plot and character, internal precepts and turning points, who’s got the memory to hold it all in? So, I start by writing down those internal precepts. Those are what make the characters for me. The rules by which they live and which one will change by the ending of the book. That’s where character growth comes in, btw. Which precept will change by the end and why? Obviously, in a romance, it’s usually because of love. But whatever the reason, make sure it happens because of what the hero/ine does.
The hero’s change comes because of the heroine and the reverse.
Oops…I got off track. My super secret shortcut is this: after I develop the internal precepts, I settle into an image for my characters. It’s a shortcut so that I don’t have to look back at my character sketch. Look at your list of precepts. What does it suggest to you? If you haven’t a clue, try for a color set or an element. Is she fiery? Then dress her in reds and oranges. She gets hot under the color and when she’s afraid, her blood freezes. I had a hero who was on the verge of a mental collapse. His image was of a seething volcano. He dressed in greens and browns, but he was always hot. His hair had red tones. His touch burned and the intensity in his eyes melted the heroine (who happened to have water imagery).
Then take it one step further. The heroine of Cornered Tigress was a skittish cat. That gave me her colors: black and gray. It also gave me how she moves: on her toes silently, or she pounced or stalked. Cats don’t see as well, they’re very texture and taste oriented. So she became a cook and whenever she entered a room, she tasted the air and noticed the fabrics. When she grew frightened, she hid in tiny closed spaces like a closet, but she would fight like a demon when cornered. The hero made her feel safe. When he caressed her, she wanted to stretch and purr. The hero’s imagery set, btw, was of a thunder storm. He was tailor made to frighten her, so that made it all the better when they soothe each other’s demons.
Starting to the get idea? It’s a lot to absorb in a short article. Usually my blogs are light and funny and deal with a fraction of what this one did. But I believe in your ability! So it’s your turn now. Start to work on your characters internal precepts then give them a matching image. Put it in the comments, and I’ll try to help you tweak them if necessary. And one lucky commenter will win a free copy of either Jade Lee’s Devil’s Bargain (Regency era historical) or my just released Blaze by Kathy Lyons (that’s my Harlequin alter ego) titled Under His Spell. You can go to my website www.jadeleeauthor.com or www.kathylyons.com to check out the books and excerpts.
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Join us again next Monday when Borders Book Buyer Sue Grimshaw explains how all those lovely books get on the shelves.
Jade and Kathy’s Bio:
A USA Today bestseller, JADE “LEE has made her mark with sizzling romances whose unique settings, intriguing backdrops and exotic characters lure you in.” (Romantic Times Book Club reviews). Her China-set historical romances are a first in genre history. Her six-book Tigress series stirred reader passions for foreign settings, and her fantasy romances continue to be ground-breaking. No one does dragons like she does in Dragonborn and Dragonbound! But she hasn’t forgotten her Regency roots. Look for a new sexy historical in Wicked Surrender on sale September 2010.
And don’t forget KATHY LYONS! She’s Jade’s lighter, funnier, and sexier half. Kathy writes for Harlequin Blaze, giving us a mesmerizing tale in Under His Spell and then workplace hilarity in Taking Care of Business.
- IMAGINE THIS…Part 2 Imagery and Characterization, can the two ever meet outside of an English class? By Jade Lee
- Weekly Lecture Schedule: Mon., February 24 to Fri., February 28
- Weekly Lecture Schedule for April 5 – 9: C.J. Redwine, Marital Rating Charts & Jade Lee/Kathy Lyons
- Ask An Editor: Dos and Don’ts of Settings
- IMAGINE THIS…Part 1 Imagery and Characterization, can the two ever meet outside of an English class? By Jade Lee