Welcome to one of my favorite authors (and people!) Kat Cantrell! I saw (and bought of course) Kat’s latest book in the store, and knew we had to have her back as a guest on RU. Comment for a chance to win both copies Kat’s latest series.
A little over three years ago, I entered a contest called So You Think You Can Write. One of my critique partners at the time looked into her crystal ball and said, “Not only do I think you’re going to win, Harlequin will take as many books from you as you can write.” Turns out she was right on both counts.
Since then, I’ve gone on to sign contracts for nineteen books and I just released my tenth book with Harlequin Desire. I’m writing four books a year, which I honestly would have considered lightning pace when I first entered the contest. Category romance is an interesting sector of the industry, often tagged as formulaic and maybe a bit old school. Once upon a time, when people talked about “Category”, they meant writing short books (usually between 50,000-55,000 words) with one of the Harlequin lines that publishes several titles a month, every month, like clock-work. But the rise of Entangled shows that readers like shorter books no matter who the publisher is, and indie publishing has exploded with shorter titles over the last couple of years.
No matter who you’re writing for, the key is to write quality books and do it as often as you can. Category romance is often called formulaic and I’ve found that to be a blessing when trying to be so prolific. With that in mind, I’ve put together some tips on how to think about a shorter book because there is a method to the madness that can help if you’re trying to write both well and fast. If you can get the code down, you can repeat it. Because no one wants to write just one book.
The most important thing you can do is learn to outline. I know. I hear you wailing at your screen that you’re a pantser, and that works well for people who want to write long books and put out one or two a year. I’m not talking to those people. An outline is nothing more than a list of the turning points of the story. I think about my next outline while I’m finishing my current book. Whether you’re writing to a publisher’s deadline or your own, the next book is just around the corner.
What goes in the outline? The formula. It’s almost as bad a word as “outline”, isn’t it? No. Stop thinking like that. It’s your best friend because you want to write a consistently good story so your readers will come back for more. When writing a shorter book, you’ve got so little space to work that it’s critical to focus on the romance. Five short sentences can go in your outline: First meet with the romance set up, turning point one where the romantic stakes rise, turning point two where happily ever after seems possible, turning point three, which is the black moment, and the resolution.
Now expand on those sentences with your other best friend, GMC (goal, motivation and conflict). Your character’s GMC (goal, motivation and conflict) should be external and concrete at the beginning of the book and change into internal and emotional by the end of the book. And both the hero’s and heroine’s should tie so closely to each other, removing one element would cause the story to collapse. Don’t know your character’s GMC? Figure it out.
GMC is nothing more than creating complex characters who behave consistently and have qualities which make them heroic and likable. Additionally, you’ll give them flaws and quirks which make them unique, interesting and memorable. The characters makeup should create and maintain the GMC and plot. The reader must understand why the characters are the way they are.
The emotional conflict that drives the story is best served if it stems from the “love belief” or other moral belief (moral to the character, not necessarily society) of the heroine and hero working in opposition to each other, not from external forces. For example, in thinking about your characters—if they were trapped in a cave, what internal barriers would keep them from living happily ever after? This is that thing where you can’t have their conflict easily solved with a conversation. Because they’re going to talk. So what’s really keeping them apart?
The crux of the story should center on the emotional journey of the characters, not external plot. Your plot becomes a series of conversations (see, I told you they were going to be talking!) between your hero and heroine—set within the story world and consistent with the character’s professions or situations in life—about the issues which divide them. Each scene should uncover layers of their personality and allow them to know the other better, which challenges the assumptions they’ve made about each other. Each scene should remind them simultaneously why they want to be together and why they can’t and your GMC is the guide in each scene.
The external plot should serve to simply force the hero and heroine together. The emotional conflict is what keeps them apart. The stakes must be crucial enough that neither can walk away when things get difficult and get more crucial as you work through your turning points. Keep in mind that we’re talking “crucial” to the character. Make their backstory work to show us why X is so important.
And now wrap it up. Your black moment is when it’s finally too much. One or both characters have had enough. But it’s the act of walking away (symbolically or physically) that causes them both to realize what they’ve lost. Love gives the characters courage to change the internal conflicts which have been keeping them apart. The resolution should show how the act of falling in love has completed the journey for both hero and heroine.
Easy, right? Another exercise you can try is to read books in a similar vein to the ones you want to write, and then deconstruct the “formula” for yourself. All good books have them. Your goal is to learn it and then make your story stand out through the unique way you put it together.
In the comments, let me have it! Formula: bad or good?
I’ll give away a digital copy of both books in the Newlywed Games duo, FROM FAKE TO FOREVER and FROM EX TO ETERNITY, in winner’s choice of format to one lucky commenter. Thanks for hanging out with me today.
Comment for a chance to win!
Join us on Friday for Miranda Liasson’s How Not to be Boring
Bio: Kat read her first Harlequin novel in third grade and has been scribbling in notebooks since she learned to spell. What else would she write but romance? When she’s not writing about characters on the journey to happily ever after, she can be found at a soccer game, watching Friends or dancing with her kids to Duran Duran and Red Hot Chili Peppers. Kat, her husband and their two boys live in North Texas. She’s a proud member of Romance Writers of America®. Kat was the 2011 Harlequin So You Think You Can Write winner and a 2012 RWA® Golden Heart® finalist for best unpublished series contemporary manuscript. She writes passionate stories about smart, sassy heroines and the men who try to keep up with them for Harlequin Desire and Carina Press.
Visit Kat’s website and follow her on Facebook and Twitter.
- Demystifying the Outline with Kat Cantrell
- Category, Single-titles and Plot Structure, Oh, my! by Adrienne Giordano
- Category Romance: Tips for Writing a Great First Chapter with Tessa Shapcott
- Top 3 Submission Errors and How Authors Can Fix ’em
- Top 3 Submission Errors and How Authors Can Fix ’em by Ann Leslie Tuttle*