Cabbages and Kings

A diary by the authors of the Louis Kincaid series

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Location: Fort Lauderdale/Elk Rapids, Florida and Michigan, United States

We are the New York Times bestselling authors of the Louis Kincaid series and other stand alone thrillers. We have taught writing at major conferences for ten years.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Cardboard men and the women who love them

Men characters...can't control 'em and can't shoot 'em.

Actually, I guess I could do the latter. And that is just about where I am right now with one of the dudes in our latest book. His name is Brad. He's the boyfriend of our heroine Joe Frye and he's making life miserable for me. I just want the guy to go away. But I can't do that, because he's important to the plot. Joe doesn't really need him but I, the author, do.

It's my fault. I gave birth to this creep. I can't even blame my co-author sister Kelly because when we plotted this book out, I was the one who drew duty on Brad. I put him on paper, I got him up and walking around. So now I have to find a way to deal with him.

I thought I was finished with Brad. When we turned in the book, I quickly forgot about him. But then our editor -- a very insightful gentleman named Mitch Ivers -- sent us his revision letter. And let's just say Brad didn't exactly float Mitch's boat.

Brad, it seems, is a cipher. In creating him, I committed one of the biggest sins of writing, something I preach about to every new writer I encounter. Namely:

Your villain MUST NOT be stupid, dull, or incompetent. He MUST be a worthy opponent for your hero.

Wait, you say, I thought Brad was Joe's boyfriend, not the villain. Well, the same commandment applies to love interests as well. If you expect readers to buy into a romantic relationship, the man you pick for your woman must be worthy of her affection.

Brad, alas, is made of cardboard. He's not the sexy UPS man. He's the UPS box.

I didn't take the time or energy to flesh him out. I neglected to give their relationship enough backstory to make it believable. I was so busy lavishing love and words on my heroine, the villain and the cast of fabulous secondary characters -- shoot, even the frickin' scenery -- that I just plain forgot about flaccid Brad.

I know why this happened, though I hate to admit it.

This book is the first one we have written that actually has a romantic relationship at its core. It is the first in what we hope will be a new series featuring our female cop Joe Frye. It is still dark in tone and hardboiled in its bones, but it does deal with the gooier things like sex and love. (Which don't come up much in Louis Kincaid's cosmos). So Brad had a place.

But I think when it came time to write about the gooier things, I froze. I had flashbacks to my romance writing days when if you didn't have sex every four chapters or so there was something wrong with you. But that was a long time ago. I haven't had to have sex since...I had to go look this up...1993!

Friends, I am here to tell you. It is NOT just like riding a bicycle.

The lesson here is: pay attention to every character and don't take shortcuts. I didn't do my job as a writer with Brad the first time around; I thought I could get away with giving him less than my best. So now, here I am, struggling with rewrites. Transfusing Brad with some blood, jolting him with the heart paddles, trying to make him come alive on the page.

I should have killed him off in chapter 20.


Anonymous Jake said...

Oh, God, do I ever know what you mean! I, too, have written romances. And I, too, thought I saw my last sex scene in the rear view mirror years ago!

I had a love interest in the Laura Cardinal series. Tom. I thought I was doing okay. He wasn't around much, because he was the strong, silent type. I actually sent him off on a packing trip to New Mexico in the beginning of the book. But eventually he had to come back, and then what?

They moved in together, but Laura was busy, out solving crimes. I put him in as rarely as I dared.

When the book came out, I was surprised at the response of ladies in book clubs. "Ooh, she's not going to stay with Tom, I hope?" "I hate Tom!" "He gives me the creeps!"

A couple of people liked him. But I guess I managed to transfer my disinterest to the reader somehow, and most of these ladies had nothing but contempt for him.

I like the way Lee Child does it. Reacher's on the move. He might have sex once or twice, but then he kisses his horse and rides off into the sunset.

I feel for you, Kris. I really do.

2:34 PM  
Blogger Jude Hardin said...

Great post, Kris. Thanks for sharing this.

4:21 PM  
Anonymous Barbara W. Klaser said...

"If you expect readers to buy into a romantic relationship, the man you pick for your woman must be worthy of her affection."

Maybe that's the perspective you have to take, first making him a person worthy of her, from her viewpoint, then getting into his head, once you know who it is he needs to be in order for her to want him around. Sort of a back door approach.

7:17 PM  
Blogger PJ Parrish said...

I see your point. Men are always best approached...obliquely. :)

8:11 PM  
Blogger Richard said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

9:25 PM  
Blogger Mike said...

Very interesting blog! Just came across this at random and, being a frustrated short story writer myself, thought I'd let you know I enjoyed reading through your posts.....

9:39 PM  
Blogger PJ Parrish said...

Welcome Mike,
Glad to have a new voice in the mix.

12:20 PM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

Whew. I feel for you. I'm pleased that I'm writing thrillers that have very tight timespans--no time for sex, precious little time for food, gotta go and save the world, no time, no time....

But Derek Stillwater, the hero in my novels, typically teams up with a very smart, tough female agent or somebody, so in order to make that happen... well, you know the old trick for romances? Make them want different things? Or make them want the same thing and compete for it?

Just... I'm reminded of some crappy movie with Julia Roberts and Nick Nolte, where they had him as a grumpy meat-eating sports guy and she was, hey, what a surprise, a vegetarian... and I thought, oh for god sakes, couldn't you at least flip it? Make the guy the vegetarian and the woman the carnivore? At least?

9:57 PM  
Blogger PJ Parrish said...

LOL, Mark...
Nolte as a vegan? Hard to visualize. But you're right in that sometimes just flipping the expected roles injects some juice into fictional romance. You make an interesting point about pace that I hadn't considered. The pace of my new book is a little slower (at least in the beginning) and the time frame of the whole story stretches over months. Ergo, enough time to develop the relationship aspects of the book. My heroine Joe isn't trying to save the world - tick, tick, tick -- just herself really. She does so by finding lost girls.

11:47 AM  

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