Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Rediscovering my Voice

I am now in the process of putting the final polish on my romance manuscript. It has  already been edited approximately... 8,000 times. The first draft was unusually rough for me and I've only just realized why.

I wrote The Gates of Nottingham when I was very young. It was a huge learning experience for me. I believe any author's first novel teaches them patience, perseverance, and humility, but most of all, it gives them a voice. From Nottingham I learned that I prefer to pen third-person limited narratives with tight, lean prose. My novels have all had varying degrees of darkness, most exuding a certain level of anxiety.  In So Many Secrets I experimented with first person story telling because I believed that would best suit the story, but in Prince Dead, I returned to form with a story written from the perspective of four characters. I have often been told I write like a man, all flowery prose and high emotion kept to a minimum for the sake of stress-inducing suspense and emotionally scarred characters.

For these reasons, dipping my toes into the romance genre proved a challenge.
Though many touch on serious topics, most romances exude hopefulness. Both the author and the reader know that at the end of the road there will be a Happily Ever After. This is the draw. No matter how stressful our own lives become, there is a genre of novel we know we can pick up where no matter the internal and external challenges, both hero and heroine will overcome.

Though imprints and authors have different styles, most romance novels are written in third person, limited form from both the hero's and heroine's perspectives. This lends the novels an intimate feel that works beautifully for the stories being told. For example, in one popular trope this format allows us to know that our heroine lacks body confidence because she feels she has never been slim enough to please her mother. It also allows us to know that the hero finds her extremely attractive. Both statements are completely accurate because they are given from the character's own thoughts. We do not, however, know whether the heroine's mother actually thinks this way, nor what anyone else's opinion on her figure is. Everyone besides the main characters are limited to their dialogue, which as in real life may or may not be true, and to the hero's and heroine's perception of them. This creates a world where the reader can only trust and understand the two characters, just as the characters come to trust and understand each other. 

Knowing this, I had my goals outlined. My narrative must carry a touch of optimism, no matter the obstacles I threw at the characters. I needed to limit all knowledge, perception, and action to the hero and heroine and, in doing so, must also build colorful, empathetic supporting characters around them.

I failed the first goal miserably in the initial draft which led to me throwing out about the last 75 pages and re-working them completely. Still, the novel carried a morose undertone which required multiple edits to completely remove. Although I am not a generally melancholy person, writing gritty, historical dramas had accustomed me to a certain style of story-telling not easily unlearned. Like a stand-up comic cracking jokes at an inappropriate moment, I found myself falling back on unwarranted habits.

With much work and some frustration, I feel I have finally broken from this mold. Although my characters do have to handle serious issues such as family alcoholism, bullying, and government nepotism, neither they, nor the novel falls into a dark place. 

The second goal I found easier, though still informative. I am planning on returning to multi-character sagas in the future, but teaching myself to focus on a tight, limited story line and perspective can only improve those future works.

By taking on a new challenge, abiding some guidelines, and editing until I was blue in the face, I have put some new tools on my belt. Many people deride the romance genre as insipid or trashy, but by focusing on it, I feel that I have rediscovered my voice as a narrator.

And that is a gift.


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