Join Romance Giveaways for all Giveaway Information

Maisey Yates USA Today Bestselling Author under the Spotlight!

Today I’m honored to be hosting Harlequin Presents/Modern Author Maisey Yates
Maisey, thanks for agreeing to do this interview. It's great to have you here!
Thank you Nas! I'm so pleased you asked me to be a guest!

You are welcome, Maisey. The pleasure is all mine! So I kicked off with some easy questions first....
On Writing and Reading
So, when did you start to write and how long did it take you to be published?
I started writing seriously in 2008 when my youngest son was born and I was published in December of 2009. So it was quite fast for me! (though it seemed long at the time!)
I bet all that juggling of jobs, relationships and commitments gives you plenty of fodder for your books. What sparks your creativity?
Anything and everything. I'm always amazed at where ideas can come from. A line in a song, a headline, a fairy tale. I don't usually draw book concepts from real life, but real life moments certainly make it into my books!
What do you love most about being a writer?
Writing. The actual act of writing the books is my favorite part.
What do you like least about being a writer?
Probably the fact that a lot more people know about you, so there are more people to criticize you. I don't know, I both love and hate the being well-known aspect. ;)
Where were you five years before?
 I was a new mommy, and not thinking much about writing!
...on a shelf in my country!
Where do you envision yourself five years from now?
Being a busy wife and mother, still, and being a writer, still.
Do you have a favorite locale or setting for your novels? What is it and why is it your favorite?
I love researching new locations, but I used Thailand in one book and I'm planning on using it again because it was just lovely. I also used Malawi in an upcoming release and found it very inspiring.
Which of the books you have written is your favorite?
I'll be honest and say I like them all, because if I didn't believe in them, I wouldn't want them out there. But The Inherited Bride was one of the hardest books, and as a result, I love it. And The Highest Price to Pay which comes out in the UK July 15th is the book of my heart in many ways.
What is your favorite recent title by another author?
I loved Immortal Champion by Lisa Hendrix. Such an amazing hero!
What are your five all-time favorite books (with authors)?
That's hard! Um...
Anything For You by Sarah Mayberry,
Flowers From the Storm by Laura Kinsale,
Expecting His Love-Child by Carol Marinelli,
Anne of Green Gables by LM Montgomery and
The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle, by Avi.
(Those last two books really cemented my love of reading when I was younger, and they made me want to write!)
What one specific piece of advice would you give a would-be writer trying to kick-start a career?
Write. You have to write to get better. It's not all about reading blogs and taking courses. Actually write and finish a book.

On Romance...
Describe the ultimate romantic meal.
One where I'm not being mauled by children! My husband and I just had our sixth anniversary and we ate at this gorgeous restaurant at a table outside. It was so quiet, and I was with the man I love. Perfection.
What is your all-time favorite romantic movie?
Bend it Like Beckham. I love it.
What is your all-time favorite romantic song or composition?
From This Moment On by Shania Twain is our wedding song, and even though I'm not usually a big country music fan, that song is really special to me.
What is the most romantic gesture or gift you have received?
My husband brought me flowers to my very first doctor appointment when I was pregnant with our first child.
How do you keep the romance alive in your relationship?
We're friends! We love to talk, and be together. We invest time and laughter in each other.
What tip would you give your readers to make their lives more romantic?
I think real romance is sharing a life with someone, ups and downs, good and bad, and staying together. Invest in your spouse or partner. Let them know how much you love them. Romance will follow.
Where is the most romantic place you’ve ever traveled?
I'm short on travel. ;) But my husband and I went to the Oregon Coast on our honeymoon and it was lovely. Quiet and a slow pace, time to just enjoy each other!

All About her...
Have you always wanted to be a writer?
 Yes and no. I've always thought it was glamorous, I've always written. But I've wanted to be a lot of things. It wasn't until I discovered Presents that I knew, this is what I want to write.

Besides writing, what other talent would you most like to have?
 I wish I was a good housekeeper. I'm not.
Who is someone you admire and why?
I admire my parents. They did a fabulous job of making sure I knew I could be whatever I wanted, but that I would need to work for it.
Do you have a good luck charm or superstition?
Not as such. When I get stuck on a book I pray a lot.
What quality do you most admire in a man?
A man who changes diapers is a sexy thing.
What is the one thing you've always wanted to do, but never had the courage to try? I'm just getting started. At 25, I've tried a lot of things, and don't regret the things I avoided! LOL.
If you weren’t a writer, what would you be?
 I would be a famous singer, naturally. ;) Really? I have no idea. Maybe something in advertising? I find how you sell products to people and what entices them to buy things pretty fascinating.
What quote or personal saying do you live by? Who said it? 'And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love' That's 1 Corinthians 13:13

To finish up, do you have any advice/handy tips/craft skills you'd like to share with unpublished authors?
My biggest tip is: don't be afraid to let your own voice shine through in your books. Don't fall back on things that might be cliché, bring you to your writing.
There's a scene in The Inherited Bride where the heroine and hero are arguing about something menial, and the argument is kind lifted from my real life. It was real to me, and a way to bring my unique perspective on life and relationships into the book.
The Inherited Bride is about a princess who's promised to a sheikh. She's done everything she's been asked to do all over very-sheltered life, but as her arranged  marriage approaches she realizes she wants more form life. The chance to pick out her own underwear, tour Paris and try her first hamburger. And who better to guide her, and make sure she's safe, than her future husband's brother, the captain of the guard. But attraction that's impossible and forbidden blooms between them and both Adham and Isabella have to make the choice between duty and desire.
Princess Isabella was certain of three things…
She desperately didn’t want to marry the Sheikh to whom she wa
s betrothed…
There was more to the darkly handsome, dark-hearted desert stranger
escorting her back to the altar than met the eye…
And, having kissed the stranger once, she was never going to be the same
Thanks for sharing your insights about writing and some fun facts about your life, Maisey, it's been a honor having you here.
And folks, to connect with Maisey, check out her fun and sometimes serious craft posts over here. Her FACEBOOK page always have some sassy updates. And for more flirty fun connect with her on Twitter!
The goodness doesn't end there though, folks. Maisey has generously donated a copy of THE INHERITED BRIDE to one lucky person.
All you have to do is “LIKE” her FB page and leave a comment or question for Maisey and you'll go into the draw for this book.

Wow! Books for All and More....

The Contest and Wendy S Marcus' s in-depth interview is in the post below.

Wendy invited you all to her website to check out and read the excerpt here of her debut release WHEN ONE NIGHT ISN'T ENOUGH.
While you’re there check out her Home Page for information on two CONTESTS she's running. You could win one Amazon gift card.
And, if you’re interested in winning a free copy of her 2in1 UK release, which includes a full novel by Janice Lynn, click on the link above to read the excerpt and send her an e-mail with the answer to this question:
What is Dr. Jared Padget’s pet name for nurse Ali Forshay? Her e-mail can be found on her Contact page. Be sure to put Nas’s Blog in the subject line.
Now don't forget to follow Wendy around as she is giving away signed books at every blog stop. And the person who comments on most or all of her blog stops goes in the draw for US$25.00 Amazon Gift Certificate at the end of May and in the GRAND DRAW of US$50.00 Amazon Gift Certificate! Another, wow!
<------ The Links are on my left sidebar as well as here!

I received an email from Jessica Hart that everyone who sent emails to her can expect books in their mail! Wow! Books for all! Jessica had said below on her Creative Writing post that, "I've got some spare copies here, so if anyone who has posted here would like to read it too, send me your address at Jessica and I'll put you in a lucky dip!"
So all of you who sent emails just got lucky! Congratulations!

On 30th May we have Maisey Yates with a signed copy of THE INHERITED BRIDE as a giveaway! 

When One Night Isn't Enough and Wendy S Marcus with Mega Giveaways!

Wendy, thanks for agreeing to do this interview. It's great to have you here!
Hi Nas! I am absolutely thrilled to be here to promote my debut Harlequin Medical Romance When One Night Isn’t Enough currently available at theMills & Boon.  And coming to the U.S. and Aus/NZ in July 2011.

Most of you don’t know, but way back, I was Nas’s first official blog follower! I am in awe of how far she’s come and how much her blog has grown since my first visit. Wow!
Thank you, Wendy!

I started off by asking her....
On Writing and Reading…
So, when did you start to write and how long did it take you to be published?
I started writing in 2007 and I received ‘The Call’ in 2010.
I bet all that juggling of jobs, relationships and commitments gives you plenty of fodder for your books. What sparks your creativity?
Of all things, I’d have to say music is what sparks my creativity.
What do you love most about being a writer?
I love social networking, interacting with other writers and readers. (And working in my pajamas is cool, too!)
What do you like least about being a writer?
Where were you five years before?
Working in my consulting business during the day and reading romance novels at night.
Where do you envision yourself five years from now?
Hopefully still writing romance but maybe for the single title market. At some point I would love to have a book I can purchase from the shelf of my local store.
Do you have a favorite locale or setting for your novels? What is it and why is it your favorite?
Both my books are set in upstate New York. Because I love New York and I’m familiar with it. That doesn’t mean I won’t try out some different locales in the future.
Which of the books you have written is your favorite?
Having only written two books I’d have to say I love them both equally. Really. I love the characters and the storylines. I’m equally proud of both of them. 
What one specific piece of advice would you give a would-be writer trying to kick-start a career?
Sit down and write. Stop thinking about it and talking about it. DO IT. Then put your work out there. Look for opportunities to get one on one time with editors/agents like during online pitches (like those run by Harlequin), or purchasing critiques from Brenda Novak Auction (going on now), or appointments at conferences. Do whatever you can to avoid the slush pile.  

On Romance...
Describe the ultimate romantic meal.
Cooked by my husband. (He makes a restaurant quality stuffed shrimp dish.)  And I know it’s cliché but a darkened candlelit room with soft music playing in the background – maybe some James Taylor – and a glass of chilled Pinot Grigio always does it for me. (Yup. Cheap and easy!)
What is your all-time favorite romantic movie?
The Notebook.
What is your all-time favorite romantic song or composition?
Mama’s Song by Carrie Underwood – mostly for the chorus. He is good. So good. And he treats your little girl like a real man should. He is good. So good. He makes promises he keeps. No he’s never gonna leave. Check it out here:
What is the most romantic gesture or gift you have received?
I love James Taylor and last year my husband surprised me with tickets to his concert. We had a blast! Well at least I did…my husband’s not much of James Taylor fan but he likes to see me happy.
What tip would you give your readers to make their lives more romantic?
Make time for your relationship. Keep a date night. Don’t let the dog sleep in your bed. I’ll give you a pass on children since mine slept with me, on and off. But only until kindergarten. They’re old enough to ride the bus, they’re old enough to sleep in their own bed.
Where is the most romantic place you’ve ever traveled?
For my sweet sixteen my parents sent me on a trip to Europe. I found Venice at night to be wonderfully romantic. But truthfully, I find any vacation spot on the water romantic.
All About her...
Have you always wanted to be a writer?
No. I started playing around with writing when a good friend of mine spent some time in prison. You see, when I married my husband I became part of a group of friends who had been tight since high school, the husbands and the wives. There were no secrets between them. This one friend of my husband’s always tried to dig up dirt from my past. So during his incarceration I sent him long, entertaining and detailed letters – which he said were the favorites among his fellow inmates – to keep him occupied. Come to think of it…I hope he got rid of them before he came home! Anyway, I had fun writing those letters and, after reading a few books where I’d thought I could do better, I set down to draft my first romance.  
Besides writing, what other talent would you most like to have?
I would love to be able to belt out a song, in public, without embarrassing myself or sending my children running from the room – like they do when I start to dance.
What quality do you most admire in a man?
What is the one thing you've always wanted to do, but never had the courage to try?
Pick up a handsome stranger in a bar and go home with him. (Obviously this goes back to before I was married.) The thought excites – I mean used to excite – me. Unfortunately…or maybe fortunately I’m too cautious and distrusting to ever do it. But I have no problem writing about it!!!
 If you weren’t a writer, what would you be?
I’m a nurse by trade. I have a master’s degree in health care administration. When my children were younger I started a health care consulting business so I could work from home and make my own hours. But my goal was always to return to work as a power player in the industry once my children graduated high school. My youngest is in eighth grade. If an opportunity presented itself, I’m not sure what I’d do.   
What quote or personal saying do you live by?
Do unto others as you’d have others do unto you.
To finish up, do you have any advice/handy tips/craft skills you'd like to share with unpublished authors?
1)      Get out there and mingle with your fellow writers. Attend conferences and meetings. Speak up on loops. Visit blogs. Make friends. 
2)      Learn the guidelines for the publisher/agent you’re submitting to and follow them.
3)      Read in the genre you want to write. Know what’s out there and what’s selling.
4)      Write. Every day. No matter what. (Do as I say, not as I do because I am a notorious procrastinator.)
5)      A good book is written in revision. Just meeting the word count for submission is not enough.
6)      Find a good critique partner, someone honest who won’t feed you undeserved praise. Because trust me, an agent/editor will have no trouble telling you exactly what’s wrong with your manuscript. Wouldn’t you rather have the opportunity to fix it before it gets that far?
7)      Don’t let fear of rejection keep you from following your dreams.
8)      Don’t let actual rejection deter you from your goal of publication.
9)      Practice your craft. Take classes. Learn and grow as a writer.
10)  Never give up. The agent/editor who is the perfect match for your manuscript is out there. It’s your job to find him/her. Good luck!
Nurse Ali Forshay has found the perfect man for her. Dependable. Routine. Boring. Exactly what she wants to ensure the quiet, stable and anonymous life she’s dreamed of since childhood. Then his friend, Dr. Jared Padget, shows up and goodbye fairytale ending. The man’s a schmoozer. A womanizer. A whoo-a-woman-into-bed-using-any-means-necessary kind of man just like her father. And Ali wants nothing to do with him. But he’s so tempting. Thank goodness his temporary assignment at Madrin Memorial is over, and he’s heading out of town.
If only he hadn’t shown up at girls’ night out on the eve of his departure. If only he hadn’t taken her up on her drunken one-time offer. If only he hadn’t come back when he’d promised to stay away…
Check out an excerpt here. 
While you’re there check out my Home Page for information on two CONTESTS I’m running. You could win one of four Amazon gift cards.
And, if you’re interested in winning a free copy of my 2in1 UK release, which includes a full novel by Janice Lynn, click on the link above to read the excerpt and send me an e-mail with the answer to this question:
What is Dr. Jared Padget’s pet name for nurse Ali Forshay? My e-mail can be found on my Contact page. Be sure to put Nas’s Blog in the subject line.

Visit me on Facebook: Wendy S Marcus

Visit me on Twitter@WendySMarcus 

Visit me on Goodreads: Wendy S Marcus
Now, for a couple of questions to get some conversation started. Have you ever read a Harlequin Medical Romance? If so, what did you think? If no, why not? And are you willing to make mine your first? What is your idea of the perfect medical hero/heroine?

Create Emotional Tension in your stories with Jessica Hart.

All about Jessica Hart...

Jessica’s earlier career was a haphazard one,  including stints as foreign newsdesk secretary in London, cook on an Australian outback cattle station, TEFL teacher in Jakarta and interpreter on expedition in Cameroon.  She first stumbled into writing as a way of funding a Ph.D. in Medieval Studies, and since then she has just completed the 58th book for Harlequin Mills & Boon’s Romance series. 

A multiple finalist and past winner of both a RITA (Christmas Eve Marriage, Best Traditional Romance 2005) and the UK’s coveted Romance Prize (Contracted: Corporate Wife, 2006), Jessica was awarded the National Readers’ Choice Award (Traditional category) for her 50th book, Last-Minute Proposal, in 2009 and again in 2010 for Cinderella’s Wedding Wish.  In 2009 she was nominated for a Romantic Times Series Career Achievement Award.

The more Jessica writes, the more interested she is in how and why romance works, and she really enjoys teaching and sharing what she has learnt about writing over the past 20 years.  She is a reader for the Romantic Novelists’ Association New Writers’ Scheme, and has presented workshops at  romance writing conferences in the UK, North America and, most recently, Australia.  She teaches an intensive week-long course in Tuscany (a dirty job, but somebody has to do it) and a ten week course,  From the Slush Piles to the Shelves: Writing Fiction that Sells around the World, at the Centre for Lifelong Learning at the University of York, where she will also be offering a one-day Crash Course in Writing Romance in May 2011.

Jessica lives in York, and is a freelance editor as well as a tutor and writer of mainstream women’s fiction.

Currently Jessica is doing a giveaway on her Website. Please visit Jessica to find out how you can get a three in one book!

While there visit her Blog to say "Hi" and Friend her on Facebook for more up to date news.  She has a Facebook Photo Album of her books around the world. And yes, there is a photo of her Blind Date Proposal in my driveway!

As she is a teacher I asked her to tell us a little about How To Add Emotional Tension to the stories we create, so she has this advice to give....


I read quite a few manuscripts during the year.  Most of them are fluently written, and it’s clear the writers have grasped many of the techniques of romance writing – dialogue/show not tell/giving the characters an ‘issue’ and so on.  But there’s something missing, and when I try to identify what that something is, the answer is invariably ‘emotional tension’.  I've edited a version of a workshop I gave on emotional tension and included it below, so it's quite long: I'm just about to go away (again!) for ten days, and didn't have time to write a concise version, I'm afraid.  But if you can wade through it, I hope it will be helpful anyway.

Emotional tension (or conflict) is critical.  It’s what sucks a reader into the story and keeps her turning the pages.   It’s a common misconception that a romance is about how the hero and heroine fall in love and get married.  It’s not.  It’s about why  two people who are powerfully attracted to each other not only won’t acknowledge the fact that they love each other, but feel that they can’t.  They can get married, they can have great sex, but their story doesn’t end until they can both say ‘I love you.’ 

The problem between them - the reason they can’t say how they feel, and indeed, often feel that they have to pretend the opposite – is what generates the tension within a romance.  Barbara Hannay once described the emotional tension in a story as “a metaphorical holding of breath”: when we’re engaged with the characters, when we care about them and know that they are intellectually, sexually and emotionally right for each other but can also see that there are major obstacles between them. 

Tension comes from uncertainty.  In one sense, a romance is the ultimate in certainty.  We know before we pick it up that it’s going to have a happy ending – that’s what a romance IS.  So the uncertainty has to come from not knowing HOW these two characters are going to work it out, and the bigger and more realistic the obstacles you put between them, the more uncertain it seems that a resolution is possible, the greater the tension will be. 

Your task as a romance writer is to make the relationship between hero and heroine fraught with difficulty and uncertainty, so that although the reader can see that the two of them are absolutely right for each other, she can’t see how they’re going to resolve the problems between them. 

I know many romance writers – and M&B authors in particular – loathe the notion of a formula.   We are exasperated by the myth of a painting by numbers approach to writing, and I’m certainly  not going to argue that if you have a ‘damn you’ on page 2, a kiss on page 97  and a multiple orgasm on page 174 your story will work.  But I do think that unless you understand how a romance is structured, no amount of sparkling dialogue or good writing will get your manuscript accepted.  Of course you still need to write well, you still need vivid characters and realistic dialogue and simmering sexual tension, but you need to hang them on the right structure,  because if you don’t have that, everything else will sag. 

It’s the structure that creates emotional tension, and I think that structure can indeed be reduced to a formula.  Here it is:

Situation (External)       x          Plot                =         Emotional Tension
Character (Internal)

All of these elements are closely entwined, but let’s take one by one.  

The situation is set of circumstances driven by external factors which force the hero and heroine together: a child has to be looked after, a project has to be won, a debt has to be paid.   The situation is often closely tied to the hooks in the story.  (A hook is an element of a story that we know appeals to readers and which is usually incorporated into the title somehow.  It tells the reader what kind of story it is: Sheikh, ‘Marriage’ of convenience, Baby/Secret baby, Office setting, Cinderella etc.  

When I start thinking about a story, I tend to begin with a hook.  I’m very fond of a ‘marriage of convenience’ hook because it forces the characters into intimacy, but often I’ll combine that with another – office or exotic setting or baby.  You don’t have to have a hook – Last Minute Proposal didn’t have any – but it helps.  What you do have to have is a situation and LMP has this: Tilly and Campbell are opposites forced to take part in sort of charity job swap.  Campbell is deeply competitive ex SAS type, Tilly is an overweight cake maker.  The situation in Honeymoon with a Boss is that Imogen and Tom spend three weeks alone on an idyllic island.  In Cinderella’s Wedding Wish, Rafe and Miranda pretend to be engaged.

Once you’ve got an idea of your situation – they have to get married, they have to look after a child, they have to work together – you start with those vital questions: WHY?/WHY NOT?  And the key to your situation is that HAVE TO.

In the case of LMP, I began asking myself WHY Campbell has to take part in a job swap (if he doesn’t, the programme will be a failure, Campbell can’t bear to be associated with failure – that leads of course onto another WHY?, but we’ll come to that in a moment)  As for Tilly, she’s been set up by her brothers, taking part will raise funds for a hospice, she doesn’t want to let them down – again, WHY NOT?) 

Other examples of situations might be that the heroine needs money, and
the hero needs a wife to win a contract from a family-mad client.  Or she doesn’t want the embarrassment of turning up at a wedding alone and he wants to discourage a woman who’s pursuing him.  The premise doesn’t need to be original (as you can see!) The point is that the characters are reacting to the external circumstances that bring them together, and – crucially – will keep them together.  The hero and heroine meeting and finding each other attractive clearly isn’t enough of a situation in itself.  Something has to be at stake, preferably for both of them, and it’s got to be something that matters, so that neither can walk away from the situation when things get difficult – as they will. 

Now you’ve got your situation, it’s time to move onto the second part of the formula, CHARACTER, which is inserted into that situation.

Here I’m not thinking so much about the personalities of the hero and heroine, but about what makes them the kind of people they are and behave the way they do?  Unlike the situation, which is about EXTERNAL issues that they have to deal with, character is about the INTERNAL issues that drive them.  Specifically, both your protagonists need a goal, and ideally their goals are in direct conflict with each other.  

The goal, of course, has to be an emotional one: wanting to be rich doesn’t work, but wanting – needing -  security does.  The key to investing your story with emotional tension is giving both your hero and heroine goals that reflect the kind of hopes, joys and fears that women around the world can relate to.

So, what kind of emotions drive us?  I think fear is the biggest driver of them all: fear of loss, fear of rejection, commitment, insecurity, responsibility, embarrassment, failure, betrayal, risk … We can all relate to these kinds of fears, even if we don’t share them.

Our goals tend to be the upsides of fears: love, security, justice, success.  So when we’re  thinking what drives our hero or our heroine, it’s sometimes easiest to think about what they are most afraid of, because that will determine their goal.  In other words, if our heroine is afraid of being hurt, she’ll strive for independence, if she’s afraid of rejection, her goal will be self-sufficiency, if she’s afraid of failure, she’ll be ambitious and her goal will be success.

OK, we’ve decided our heroine is afraid of rejection and her goal is to rely on herself.  Why?  Because she’s been hurt?   (How? Who? When?)
Why is our hero afraid of commitment? Because he’s seen his parents’ marriage fail? Because he’s been through a divorce?

It’s not enough to say ‘oh, he/she is just like that’.  You’ve got to show the reader why that goal/that fear is so important to them.  So, Campbell in LMP is very competitive, and I had to explain that he was driven by the need to succeed and be the best .  Why? Because he had a distant father who never praised his son, and nothing Campbell did was ever good enough for him. 

If a heroine is driven by e.g. the need to protect a sister, you need to explain why she feels so responsible.  In Outback Boss, City Bride, for instance, Meredith and her sister were sent to boarding school after the death of their mother, and Meredith has never forgotten being told to look after her little sister.  She’s carried on being the sensible one, the steady one, long after they’ve both left school.  Similarly, Alice in Barefoot Bride spent her childhood being dragged around the world by her parents; as a result, she feels a deep need to feel rooted and secure with a home of her own.

We’re not talking complex psychoanalysis here, but the reader does need to understand why the characters are the way they are.    She needs to understand that it’s not just that they don’t feel like changing their mind, but that at some deep level they really don’t think that they can, because changing is a huge risk that will takes them way out of their comfort zones.
She needs to think ‘if that had happened to me, I would think like that too’. 

Once you know your heroine’s goal and why that is so important to her, turn your attention to your hero.  You need to go through the same process with him, but this time you have to give him a goal that brings him into direct conflict with your heroine.   If she’s got a deep need for security, give him a fear of commitment.  If she’s looking for love, make him someone who distrusts love and relies on logic instead.

Now you’ve got your characters and you’ve put them into a situation that forces them together so that it’s hard for them to resist the physical attraction between them.  You’ve given them conflicting goals that make them believe that a relationship could never work and that’s pulling them apart.  You’re well on your way to investing your story with real tension, but this is  only the beginning. It is not a complete story.  You’ve got to get through ten chapters.  Both hero and heroine are going to have to change in order to move forward. This is where your plot comes in.

A misunderstanding about the nature of a  plot in a romance is one of the most common mistakes I see when reading manuscripts.  The change, the movement in the story,  is emotional, not physical. When you structure a romantic novel you should be thinking of the plot not so much as moving characters from A to B, but as a series of situations that test their fears, and push them out of their comfort zones.  

Here, I’m specifically talking about plotting a Harlequin/Mills & Boon romance.  Obviously, if you’re writing a saga or a single title, you’ll have to think about plotting in a different way but as a principle for investing your story with emotional tension, I think this is still relevant.  You just need to add another layer of plot.

So your plot isn’t about romantic scenes in romantic places.  It evolves as the hero and heroine get to know each other, and they can only do that by talking to each other about the issues that divide them.  If the misunderstanding between them can be resolved by a simple question (Who’s that woman you were with? Oh, your sister) then there’s no tension.  But if the problem is out there and discussed: she has TOLD him that she’s in love with someone else, he has TOLD her that he doesn’t believe in love, then it’s not going to go away without someone changing.  The heroine just assuming that he’ll never be interested in her, for instance, just makes her seem silly, because if we’ve done our job properly, it’ll be obvious to the reader that he is.  So she needs a very good reason for thinking that, and the best possible one is if he’s told her outright, and he’s told her why.   Both hero and heroine must believe that it would be impossible for a relationship between them to work, while the reader must understand why they think that while at the same time believing that they are absolutely right for each other in every way.

Plotting, then, is not about where they go and what they do. In Newlyweds of Convenience, my hero and heroine move to a ruined castle in the Highlands.  They do a lot of cleaning.  They go to Inverness for a night.  They go back to the castle.  It doesn’t sound very interesting, does it?  I certainly wouldn’t pick up a book with a synopsis like that. But that’s not the plot.  The plot is how Mallory’s feelings change. 

At the start of the book, she is wretchedly unhappy, raw with the pain of being betrayed and abandoned by the man she has loved.  Moving to Scotland takes Mallory out of her comfort zone but it’s her growing awareness of her husband that really changes things for her. 

So the ‘plot’ in this book is  largely conversations that teach her more about Torr and the kind of man he is, or test her new feelings for him.  Every time Mallory and Torr seem to be growing close, I reminded them both of the reasons why they couldn’t just accept that was really happening.  Yes, they go to Inverness, but it’s not the trip that’s important; what’s important is that it reminds Torr (and Mallory herself) that Mallory is a city girl and could never be at home in an isolated castle – or so they both believe.

Inverness is an external reminder of the conflict between them,  and these kind of obstacles can be helpful if not used too obviously (e.g. phone ringing at critical point) but more critical to a plot are the internal conflicts that come from character.  Mallory is starting to find Torr attractive.  They’re married.  They’re even sharing a bed, for God’s sake.  Why doesn’t she just say how she feels?  Because she believes he’s in love with another woman and that he doesn’t want messy emotions in their marriage.  Why does she believe this?  Because he’s told her that.  Why does he tell her that?  … These are the kind of why/why not questions you need to ask when you’re plotting.

In a romance - as in any relationship, in fact – it’s vital that the hero and heroine talk to each other.  They don’t need to go anywhere or do anything – I believe Liz Fielding wrote a book when the hero and heroine spent almost the entire time trapped underground – but they MUST talk.  And I don’t mean banal conversations about what to eat or where to go, but real exchanges of information.  And with each other: ideally you want to keep the two of them alone, so keep dialogue with secondary characters to an absolute minimum and only include if it contributes directly to the problem.

Think of your ‘plot’ as a series of conversations: each time they get close, remind them why they shouldn’t.   They may not always tell the truth: they probably won’t, because facing up to the truth of their feelings is difficult for both of them.  It’s much easier to pretend, to themselves as well as to each other.  It’s only when they stop pretending and recognise the truth about themselves  that they can reach a resolution and I love you. 

But as they talk, they get to know each other, perhaps have to challenge the assumptions they’ve made – and that pushes them together.  And of course the physical attraction between them is incredibly powerful, too.  It needs a big problem to stop that, so if they’re getting on too well, you’re going to have to ratchet up the pressure, or you’ll lose the tension.  Remind them of the obstacles between them, make them talk about it, so there’s no question that it’s real.  Don’t make it easy for them!   Falling in love is what makes them change, and start to believe that maybe it could work; falling in love is what gives them the courage in the end to confront whatever it is inside themselves that’s been keeping them apart, and it’s your job as a romance writer to show this process.

Of course, many writers do this instinctively, but if my  story seems to lack the emotional tension it needs to keep the reader turning the pages, I find it helpful to go back and remind myself what the real problem between the characters is – and then I create a situation that will remind them about it. 

To recap …

1.  We’ve talked about situation, which is based on a hook and creates a set of external circumstances that force the hero and heroine together and make it impossible for either of them to simply walk away when the going gets touch.

2.  Into that situation, we’ve introduced our characters, who have conflicting goals/fears.

3.  And we’ve multiplied that push-pull process with our plot that keeps them alone together as much as possible so that both hero and heroine have to confront the issues that divide them and are reminded about those issues whenever the attraction between them looks like overcoming the obstacles. 

… and that’s given our story the emotional tension it needs to make the reader keep turning the pages to find out how the hero and heroine will get to their happy ending.

All the material is shared with permission from Jessica Hart.

Here is my review of :
ORDINARY GIRL IN A TIARA from author Jessica Hart.
Caroline Cartwright, hurt by her fiancé leaving her for someone sexy and fun, felt herself to be too ordinary for the likes of an European prince.
Prince Philippe, dashing, jet-setting playboy is used to sophisticated and pampered princesses. When he hatches a plan with Caro’s friend Princess Charlotte, for Caro to masquerade as his girlfriend in order to thwart Lottie’s Grandma’s matchmaking, he knows Caro wouldn’t be able to play the part. But Caro would do anything for Lottie and she agreed to live the life of a princess for a few months.
Yet while pretending, Caro sees a different side to Philippe, a good, kind and caring man, who funds missions and flies aid to stricken areas and she becomes aware of the chemistry between them. The growth and progression of the love between Caro and Philippe is depicted in a natural flow which is emotionally satisfying.
She knows she has to return to her ordinary life, and Philippe becomes irritated when he sees her trawling the dating sites. Can he be jealous?
Philippe’s snide comment on every man’s profile Caro tells him about from the dating site is hilarious. And the emails depicted between Caro and her friend Lottie keeps the story very much in the present and is realistic.
This story is liberally spiced with humor, pathos and heartfelt emotion. I did feel emotional when Caro went to say goodbye to the Dowager. And I kept thinking how the author would bring these two characters together for their happily ever after.
You just can’t help but root for these two characters to get to their happy ending. I didn’t want the story to end just then. But who wants a good romance to end? And after finishing I sort of missed Caro and Philippe!
Written with all the warmth, tenderness and sensitivity that has become Jessica Hart’s hallmark, Ordinary Girl in a Tiara is the latest charming and mesmerizing romance from her. It’s every ordinary girl’s story and I highly recommend it!