Memoirs of a Geisha Moments: 2013 365 Challenge #187

Romance: all about yin and yang

Romance: all about yin and yang

I seem to have a writing tips theme at the moment. Apologies to blog followers who are not writers or interested in writing! It’s nearly the weekend, so normal parenting-chaos blog posts will resume!

One of the articles I read on Jungian Archetypes, after writing my post confessing I didn’t know what they were, talked about the use of archetypes in romance (where there isn’t traditionally an antagonist, in the way there might be in a crime or thriller novel).

On there is a post on understanding the Anima / Animus Archetype to create riveting romances. The author, Carolyn Kaufman, explains:

Psychological research shows a mere three things are crucial to human happiness, and one of them is love (The other two are a/ satisfying work and b/ personality, most notably the qualities of high self-esteem, extraversion, and optimism.)

This, I suppose, explains why love stories are so compelling. Even in fantasy novels, thrillers and other genres, a love-story theme is often present, if not central. (I think about my favourite TV shows, Stargate SG-1 and NCIS: the interest comes from the characters, particularly the undercurrents of forbidden love, more than the specific story lines. I digress.)

Kaufman goes on to explain:

This basic human need for romantic, sexual, and marital connections is reflected in Carl Jung’s anima/animus archetype. In essence, Jung believed there is a psychological construct in males (the anima) that creates a strong draw to the feminine as it’s embodied in real women, and a matching construct in females (the animus) that draws them to men. One of the best visual metaphors for the concept is the yin-yang

My leading man, before we were married

My leading man (and nephew), before we were married

So far, so good. Romance is about ‘Losing and Finding One’s “Other Half”‘ or ‘Chemistry’. However, Kaufman warns of the danger of making the attraction too physical, too related to an expectation of the perfect man or woman, rather than understanding what draws protagonists together.

I know I’m guilty of this. I read a lot of Georgette Heyers, and there is an element of strong man meets quirky, vulnerable female. Or strong woman fights then falls for equally strong man. There isn’t much depth. (The good Heyer books are the ones where love develops unexpectedly, through friendship, humour and shared experience, like Frederica).

What all of this means is that, just like in real life, your characters should be attracted to their love interests for a reason. The potential love interest’s traits and behavior must resonate with your hero because they somehow make him or her more whole.

This idea of resonation has been in my mind since I read this. Trying to understand what draws my protagonists together. In Baby Blues, Helen is drawn to Marcio because he is a family man: he likes children and therefore stands in contrast to her ex, who told her to get rid of her unborn baby. However, their real resonation moment is early on, when they talk about their creativity. Helen is a photographer, Marcio a freelance journalist / author. Both confess that things don’t seem real in life unless they have either put words around it (Marcio) or photographed it (Helen). It gives them a shared view of the world that transcends their moment in time (the fact that Helen is pregnant and Marcio wants children).

‘Gutted it wasn’t a true story’

In my notes I have written, “What is the ‘Memoirs of a Geisha Moment’ in Class Act?” This refers to a moment in my relationship with my husband when we knew we were destined to be together.

Early on in our relationship we were discussing the novel, Memoirs of a Geisha, which we had both read and enjoyed. However we said, at almost the same time, “Gutted it wasn’t a true story”.

That shared reaction was like a cartoon bell ringing: we understood something about the other person because of that moment.

I don’t know what that point is yet, in Class Act. My protagonists, Alex and Jenny (? I haven’t decided on a name yet. It was Rebecca, and then Katie!) are drawn to each other physically, (initially for Jenny, against her will). After that, they share an interest in literature. But I haven’t discovered their ‘Geisha’ moment yet.

Kaufman’s final point, that I need to take to heart, is this:

[T]he danger is that sometimes we’re actually creating love interests for ourselves rather than for our characters. We may assume that everyone would be attracted to the same things we are, and that little explanation is needed to justify why our heroes and heroines would fall for each other

Guilty! I adore Marcio. It’s the main reason I didn’t just bin Baby Blues when I got frustrated with it. Alex is very similar (physically, he’s almost identical). My protagonists (like my husband) all tend to be 6ft tall with dark hair and brown eyes (although Marcio’s eyes are blue). There are parts of Marcio’s dialogue which are almost verbatim to things my husband might say to me. But, then, most of the female protagonists are at least partly me, so that’s okay. I just have to make sure I explain why they love each other, rather than assuming it is obvious!


Below is the next installment in my novel Two-Hundred Steps Home: written in daily posts since 1st January as part of my 2013 365 Challenge. Read about the challenge here.You can catch up by downloading the free ebook volumes on the right hand side of the blog:


“Yes, Carl, I know I took holiday at Easter to care for Sky. Now I’m asking for a few more days. I can continue with the blog – I have plenty of extra material – no one will even realise I’m not still on the road.”

Claire regretted answering the phone. What was Carl doing checking his email on a Sunday, anyway? And on a bank holiday weekend. Didn’t the man have a life?

“Just admit it, Claire, your heart isn’t in this project. You’re dashing round the country here and there, with nothing more interesting that castles to write about. That isn’t fulfilling the brief. If this continues, I will be forced to take action.”

Claire laughed. “What action, Carl? You don’t have the balls to do anything. If you did, you would have sacked me already. And good luck with that, by the way. I’ll have you in court for unfair dismissal before you can say ‘you’re fired’.”

After the words were out, Claire wondered if they were entirely wise. He was still her boss, after all. With everything that had happened recently, it was hard to take it seriously. What had once seemed so important – her career, her reputation – now felt like a shackle around her leg.

She heard the in drawn breath, and waited for Carl to begin his annihilation. The attack didn’t come. Something she couldn’t fathom was churning in her boss’s mind. When he did speak, his words didn’t make sense.

“Look, I appreciate this task has been challenging and I understand that you have some family issues. I’m willing to be lenient in the circumstances. You may take a week, in lieu of the weekends you have worked during the assignment.” He paused, and when he spoke again, his voice was sharp.

“But I want you back on the road immediately after that. And I expect you to continue your posts.”

Claire’s head reeled. What the…? She couldn’t have been more surprised, if Carl had told her she had won employee of the year. What is his game?

Realising the phone was dead, Claire dropped it away from her ear. Was Carl really concerned that she might take AJC to court? It had been an idle threat, she knew what legal action did to a director’s reputation. Not that I care about that much anymore.

For some reason the offer made by Roger Hazleton kept floating through her mind. Her explanation to her mother about why she had come home had been an excuse. It was an unrealistic dream, in the aftermath of the wedding fiasco. Yet still it tugged at her mind.

She thought about Ruth and Sky, and tried to imagine being a 24-hour plane flight away, should something happen. No, travelling to the other side of the world was not an option.


Don’t Force It: 2013 365 Challenge #185

Creativity in the garden

Creativity in the garden

This morning I read Kristen Lamb’s latest post about the Five common tactical errors in Self-Publishing:

I’ve read this before on Kristen’s blog, but it is always useful to have a refresher, and compare where I am against where I should be.

This is the list of common errors:

1. Publishing too soon (before understanding and honing the craft of writing)

2. No prepared platform (that is, author platform – blog/website/social media etc)

3. Believing that, “If We Write it They Will Come” (self-publishing doesn’t mean less work, but more)

4. Misusing FREE! (giving your book away for free without understanding the benefits)

5. Shopping one book to DEATH (instead of sitting down to write the next one. It usually takes 3 books to have any kind of success)

Giant paint pallet

Giant paint pallet

I agree with them all: Reading Class Act now, I can see why Mills and Boon rejected it. I sent it off way too soon. There’s so much back story at the beginning even I can’t work out what’s going on. I’m still working on the others, and learning painful lessons (like coming out of the KDP Select program with Dragon Wraiths and not selling a book for five weeks!)

The only bit I struggle with is a line she uses often (it comes here under point one): “Too many new writers do not properly understand the antagonist. They don’t grasp three-act structure, and most don’t have any idea what I mean when I mention POV, Jungian archetypes, or the phrase, “scene and sequel.””

Of course, I struggle with it because I have no idea about half those things, particularly the Jungian archetypes. I’m sure my writing would be better if I did (if I understood structure better, for example, I might be able to fix Class Act quicker). However, I think you could write a great novel without knowing what all these things are called. I know a reasonable amount about writing grammatical English but, until last week, I’d never heard of a comma splice. I have looked through my writing and, instinctively, I write to a three-act structure, I use scene and sequel and I at least understand POV, even if I don’t always use it well in my writing (Baby Blues is a prime example). 

Daughter's Masterpiece

Daughter’s Masterpiece

Before I get a hundred comments telling me I really need to understand these things – I know I do (there are some interesting posts on Jungian Archetype in the related articles below). I also accept what Kristen says, that self-published authors need to be better than traditionally published authors, to compete in the same field. I am working to get better, and I read as many writing craft books as I can fit in around my writing.

Another blog I read today, which reinforces point one (don’t publish too quickly), was over on Karen Woodward’s blog. Her post, Stephen King on Storycraft has a main message: Don’t force it.

When trying to pull a story together, wait until all the pieces click, rather than trying to make it work. I guess it’s the difference between learning scales and playing a concerto (Kristen uses music as an example of how you need to know the nuts and bolts of something to excel at it). You need to know the craft of writing, but you also need the story to flow (and these things, for me, can be mutually exclusive).

One of the great things about self-publishing is the ability to get a wide range of feedback on your novels, rather than waiting a year to find out why agents are rejecting it (assuming they even tell you.) So, yes, you can publish too soon, but you can learn from it too (I hope).

This evening I sat with a pad and pen, while Andy Murray played his nerve-wracking fifth set (I needed a distraction) and worked out an additional six scenes that should hopefully remove most of the pesky back story in Class Act. I’ve been musing on it all day and then it just clicked, without forcing it.

I don’t know if the story fits in a three-act structure or exactly who the antagonist is (harder in a romance than, say, a crime novel I think). I know it still needs a heap of work. But I really enjoyed reading it this morning: reminding myself who the characters are, and getting absorbed in the dialogue.

Now on with the work so I can hurry up and publish! Assuming my three books need to be in the same genre, I’ll only have one more to go to find success 😉


Below is the next installment in my novel Two-Hundred Steps Home: written in daily posts since 1st January as part of my 2013 365 Challenge. Read about the challenge here.You can catch up by downloading the free ebook volumes on the right hand side of the blog:


Claire looked at her mother over the top of her mug of Earl Grey and waited for the interrogation. Her mother’s restraint thus far was beginning to unnerve her.

Perhaps it’s too early for the Spanish Inquisition stuff. Or maybe she doesn’t care that her youngest child just turned up on the door step at 7am when she was meant to be at a wedding.

She tried to remember if her mother even knew about Kim’s marriage. As she’d only found out herself a few weeks ago, it seemed likely that she hadn’t told her about it. I seem to have told all the wrong people all the wrong things.

Claire sighed, and wondered why her mother was being so reticent. I guess there’s only one thing on her mind. Deciding that was as good an opener as any, she set down the mug.

“How’s Ruth?”

“She’s okay. A bit low. Sky wants to be outside playing – now the nights are getting lighter – and she doesn’t have the strength to keep up with her. I think the poorly-parent novelty has worn off.”

Claire tried to read through her mother’s words, searching for the accusations. If they were there, her mother was adopting a subtler approach than usual. The only impression Claire got was of a tired woman battling on with the hand life had dealt her.

“I’ll stop by later, take Sky to that farm she kept raving about.” Claire recalled that she’d promised to take Sky there with Kim and Jeff, and hoped Sky’s memory wasn’t as accurate. She didn’t want to think about them, not yet. She waited for her mother to start the questions, but she had disappeared back into her own thoughts, head bowed.

“Mum, is it okay if I stay for a night or two?”

Her mother glanced up, and nodded, without speaking. Claire felt wrong-footed. In the still of the kitchen, she listened to the clock ticking until it felt like the countdown of a bomb.

The silence stretched like a gaping void, pulling her in. Oh, what the hell, she’ll find out eventually, even if she clearly doesn’t give a toss.

“It was Kim’s wedding yesterday. We had a fight.”

Her mother nodded again, without looking up.

“I’ve had an offer of work, which will mean going overseas. I came home to get my passport, and to talk it over with you and Ruth.”

Again the silent nod. Claire swallowed down an urge to scream.

“Mum, are you listening? I said I might be flying halfway round the world. Do you even care?”

Her mother raised her head at last, and Claire saw that her mother’s eyes were red and circled with dark smudges.

“Mum, are you okay?”

Her mother dropped her eyes again, as if making eye contact were too hard. She gazed at the table and twisted her fingers.

“I think your father is having an affair.”

And then she let her head fall on her hands, and her shoulders shook with sobs.