Thursday, January 26, 2012

Whose Story Is It?

What I'm reading: Contest entry #4 of 8; The Affair, by Lee Child.

Remember, there's still plenty of time to comment on both my Monday post and Mike Nettleton's Tuesday post to enter to win books. And another reminder about my POV workshop at Savvy Authors. I'll be giving books away there, too. If you know someone who might benefit from a basic craft workshop, point them that way. (Link in the sidebar)

In the world of romance fiction, reader expectation dictates that you have (at least) two Point of View characters: hero and heroine. They both must have complete story arcs, almost equally weighted.

Key word: "almost". Because it's not really 50-50. It might be as close as 49-51, but the reader is usually left with the feeling that it was a "his" book or a "hers" book.

Not being much of a plotter, I knew who my characters were, and what their conflicts were, but I wasn't really paying a lot of attention to whose book it would turn out to be. It didn't really matter until I needed a title. (That's another thing I rarely come up with in advance.)

Now, this book is part of my Pine Hills Police series. I've got Finding Sarah and Hidden Fire. There's also Finding Fire, but that's a collection of connected short stories. The new book features two totally new characters, Scott and Ashley, but there are still many familiar faces. The title should somehow "fit" with the others, giving potential readers a signal that the books are part of a series. For example, my Blackthorne, Inc. series all have "Danger" in the title.

When I asked my crit partners and my daughter, who is my first reader, whose book they thought it was, they all said it was Ashley's book, which meant that "Scott Free" wouldn't make a very good title (not that it's a particularly compelling title to begin with).

Against her parents' advice, Ashley has split with her unsupportive fiancé and moved to Pine Hills to start up her dream business: Confections by Ashley. The bakery is under construction, and there have been countless setbacks, which she's not sure can all be attributed to the work crew, which she thinks of as the Klutz Brigade. A dead body found on the premises doesn't help, especially when the cops think she has a motive for doing the killing.

Scott, a county sheriff homicide detective has quit his job after a traumatic case—one that screams "failure" to him, although others consider him a hero. He has to deal with his injuries, post-traumatic stress, and being able to accept that he's not a cop anymore. He's always been defined by his job. He accepts a civilian job with the Pine Hills Police Department, and is having trouble figuring out how he fits in.

Of course, since it's a romantic suspense (or, my preferred "Mystery With Relationships"), Scott and Ashley will hook up and have to deal with helping each other. He thinks Ashley, his new neighbor, is innocent, but when he's asked to help the detectives with the investigation, he has to decide if he wants to be a cop or a protective boyfriend.

But it's the GMC – the Goal, Motivation, and Conflict, that's at the heart of the story. Ashley's goal is simple: Have a successful bakery. Scott's is more deep-rooted. He has to find peace with himself. To me, Scott's inner conflict is more compelling than the more superficial conflict of trying to start up a business.

As I'm in the first round of edits, before I send it to my editor, I'll have to decide whether to go back and add more of Scott's conflict scenes to ramp up the "finding himself" theme, or if I should stick with what my readers have told me is Ashley's book.

What's your take? Based on the brief descriptions I've given, whose story do you think would be stronger? Do you have any better titles to suggest for the book? If I like yours, you'll get credit in the book, and, of course, a free copy.

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Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

Seems like Scott has a more complex story to me...

Margaret Fieland said...

But the whole things starts with Ashley -- she starts the business, and the body is in her shop. In my mind that makes it her book.

Anonymous said...

The answer to whose story it is, usually comes to me in the questions "who is doing the telling?" and "who changes the most?" It sounds like Scott is going to have the biggest emotional upheaval to deal with - he has more uncertainty to cope with. Ashley knows she's innocent and given the genre, the reader knows that, too. Scott doesn't know she's innocent, and there's the matter of his past... Sounds like his book.

Terry Odell said...

Elizabeth and Margaret -- you're both 'right' and that's what's causing my dilemma. Plot vs character growth. That 49/51 split can have blurry lines.

Terry Odell said...

Anonymous - I agree it's Scott who changes the most. It's a matter of tweaking, I think, to reflect his "top ranking" rather than having to rewrite major chunks of the book. Thanks for your input.

Karen C said...

As an impatient reader, I think it sounds like a good story and I can't wait for it to be released!

Terry Odell said...

Thanks, Karen. I'm looking at a March release date.

Pat said...

Sounds like Scott's story to me. I'd change the opening to having Scott notice his 'sexy' new neighbor and keep your title. How does that sound?

Terry Odell said...

Pat, thanks. I actually wrote two Chapter 1s ... one with Scott and one with Ashley.