I love the romance writing community. So many great people and sooner or later you finally get to meet the person behind the email address and the Facebook page. I’ve “known” Jamie for a couple of years but finally met her when we were on a panel together at the Baltimore Book Festival on being a writing mother. I was so excited to get her to come and talk to us bout her writing process.
Frustrated with existing plot-structure visual aids, I decided to find a new way to conceptualize not only the passage of time but also the emotional roller coaster of a romance novel. After sifting through the seventeen steps of Joseph Campbell’s theory of the monomyth, I graphed the ones that seemed most essential.
I call it the Emotional Journey.
It’s very simple: a story starts on the left and ends on the right. The squiggly line represents the plot. Whether that plot line is moving up or down is a consequence of emotional charge (whether positive or negative).
A. ORDINARY WORLD.
The main characters (in romance the hero and heroine, but hereafter “MCs”) are shown in their ordinary worlds, which might seem dysfunctional and barren to the readers’ eyes, but are nonetheless familiar and safe for these characters.
B. CALL TO ADVENTURE.
The MCs arrive at a fork in the road of their Ordinary World. One path is well-lit and leads away change and the possibility of love. The other path could lead to love, but it’s dark, full of confrontation, and will force them to face their deepest fears.
C. REFUSAL OF THE CALL.
Nobody wants to face their deepest fears, so the MCs will refuse the Call to Adventure. Or, if the MCs are eager to dive in, another character might remind them of the risks and high chance of failure. Backstory can be revealed here to show why the characters fear the Call, and to establish the internal conflict that will keep the MCs from loving each other at the outset of the journey.
D. THINGS GET WORSE / MEETING WITH THE MENTOR
Sometimes a mentor-like person will guide the MCs onto the frightening path. If not, “…what formerly was meaningful may become strangely emptied of value….Thereafter, even though the hero returns for a while to his familiar occupations, they may be found unfruitful. A series of signs of increasing force then will become visible, until…the summons can no longer be denied” (Joseph Campbell, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Novato, California: New World Library, 2008, Third Edition, p 46).
E. CROSSING THE THRESHOLD.
Crossing from the Ordinary World into the Special World is often marked by some significant event or action (a “setpiece”) that makes turning back impossible.
F. THE ROAD OF TRIALS.
The MCs now confront a Special World very different from the Ordinary one they left, and they’re facing it with a person they’re not sure they can trust. But the hero and heroine are forced to rely on each other to overcome the Special World’s many trials, tests, and ordeals. They do not win every battle, and their strength of character and commitment to continue the journey will be tested. This stage teaches them the skills they will need to surmount the greater ordeals to come. Ultimately, the Road of Trials establishes the the groundwork for a relationship founded on trust and respect, for only when the hero and heroine work together do they succeed. They leave the Road of Trials successful allies, yet they have not yet admitted that they need to change anything about themselves in order to survive the Journey.
G. THE APPARENT SUPREME ORDEAL.
Uneasy allies, the MCs encounter an Ordeal that is so big and scary that they revert to old habits that threaten their fragile partnership. At first, the Ordeal is a disaster; the old habits fail them miserably. They accept the necessity of real change and are forced to abandon their old ways to try something truly new: trusting each other. Though doing this is arguably as scary as the Ordeal itself, forcing them to risk rejection and humiliation at each other’s hands, there is no other way to move forward. Their acts of vulnerability succeed. Although they do not overcome their fears, they do face them, and in doing so surmount the Ordeal.
H. THE REWARD.
They celebrate, not realizing that they have only won a temporary victory. They believe that they can stay in the Special World with their love, and that everything will be perfect. If they haven’t already consummated their love, they do now. They believe themselves and their lover worthy of trust, and the happily-ever-after seems assured. But the readers know that the MCs haven’t really dealt with the issues and fears that keep them apart, and recognize this stage as the calm before the storm.
I. THE RUDE AWAKENING
The MCs are metaphorically or literally hit by a bus. A new secondary conflict arises that tests their partnership. They’re shocked to realize that they lack the skills to defeat this problem. They have been over-confident; they have taken the Reward too soon and now scramble to surmount this hurdle. They succeed, but just barely. They no longer trust each other, and lick their wounds, uncertain of how to proceed through the dark path.
J. BLACK MOMENT.
Just as the MCs are at their weakest and most vulnerable, the final challenge appears. The villain makes his boldest move; a betrayal is revealed. Whatever is it that these two people most fear rises up and dares them to proceed, and only by relying on each other and giving up their infantile, selfish desires can they emerge victorious. Often, a thing they desired in the Ordinary World proves to be incompatible with this new love, and they must make a choice between two things that they want very dearly. Choosing love feels like choosing death because this stage represents a final challenge to the the ego’s selfish desires and infantile fears. Only by choosing death of the ego can the MCs be reborn, but they resist, and their love—maybe their lives—appear doomed. All is lost. Love has failed. The villain—whether a true villain or a metaphorical one taking the form of betrayal, fear, or selfishness—appears destined to triumph.
K. THE RESURRECTION.
The MCs each choose love over ego, the other over the self, and step into the fearful dread of the now-known black moment. In doing so, they are reborn as a better person, now capable of giving and receiving love.
L. RETURN WITH THE ELIXIR.
The MCs return home to build a new Ordinary Life. The conflicts raised at the beginning of the story are resolved; their fears are gone. Their happily-ever-after is assured, and comes with a full declaration of love and commitment from both main characters. Or it may be the simple knowledge that this couple can now move forward, secure both in their love for each other and in their own strength of character.
Okay, I’m blown away. What are your questions for Jamie?
Cari Quinn will be with us on Wednesday to discuss the Rhythm of Language.
AN AFFAIR OF VENGEANCE: Released November 6, 2012!
Undercover CIA officer Evangeline Quill stalks Oliver McCrea for one reason: the handsome scoundrel can lead her to the untouchable shipping magnate who ordered her parents’ assassination. She doesn’t want to see the pain in his golden eyes. Compassion for an outlaw, however chivalrous he may be, won’t help her exact revenge on her nemesis.
But Evangeline is the first good thing that battle-weary McCrea has touched in five long years, and even though he knows he should evade her pursuit, he can’t bring himself to turn away from her. She reminds him of the man he used to be, a man he isn’t sure he can ever be again, not with the ugliness of the underworld slowly disintegrating his humanity.
The closer they get, the hotter their forbidden desire becomes, but they’ll need more than passion to escape a deadly trap set by the criminal mastermind who manipulates both their lives.
Award-winning romance writer and former zookeeper Jamie Michele has wrestled a giant python, hand-captured a rogue vulture, and brushed the teeth of an alligator, but when she decided to write a novel, she did the unexpected: she didn’t write about animals. Instead, she indulged her long fascination with international espionage, merging it with her deep knowledge of the trials of love to produce AN AFFAIR OF VENGEANCE (Montlake Romance, November 6, 2012), winner of a prestigious Golden Heart from the Romance Writers of America. Now trapped in a very boring suburb in Maryland, Jamie writes sexy, page-turning romances while managing her own little zoo, which consists of three cats and two exceedingly handsome great apes.
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