Friday, 13 May 2011

How do you write an Immortal hero?

By this I don't mean a hero who will go down in history as The Best Hero Of All Time (though that would be nice too). I mean quite literally, an immortal hero.



Ancient Deities?

Yeah, those dudes. The ones who can't, won't die. Or not unless they do something stupid like vampire sunbathing. Them.

Ok, I hold my hands up... I don't have an answer to this question, but I sure as hello wish I did. My general lack of confidence around this one issue has led me to abandon one promising work in progress as *gulp* 70 thousand words and prevent another from getting off the ground at all.

Here's my issue.

In WIP 1, my hero is a fae prince who is sent on a mission in 1825 London.

In WIP 2, my hero is an ancient Greek antihero who has just been let loose in modern London.

In both the hero had been knocking around for more than two millennia - and this is where my problems start. In order to write convincingly I need to befriend my characters. I need to understand and empathise with them, even if I don't like them that much - not all characters are born to be liked.

What I come slap bang up against is how much human motivation is shaped by our transience. Our attitude to love, risk, procreation, our protectiveness and so much more is coloured by the background aware that We Are Not Long For This World. If you had all the time in the world would you care less - or more? How do you make a character like this real?

Humanity in the non-humans

I'm wondering whether this is one of the reasons Stephanie Meyer's main vamp Edward is only a young 'un. He's still in touch with his humanity - more like an old guy in a young body than anything else. The more ancient vampires in Meyer world are more remote - they seem to view humans as a cash crop. Kind of understandable - they've seen a million or so come and go over the generations. So is it possible to have a hero whose life spans a few millennia?

Charlaine Harris does a pretty good job of this in the form of Eric Northman, her hot as hell viking. But one of the beauties of the Eric-Sookie relationship is its ambiguity. As the Southern Vampire books are told from her perspective, you're never 100% sure what Eric thinks or how deep his attachment goes. You don't know if he thinks like a human - or like something completely different. Bill is more straightforward, but Bill is only a couple of generations removed from his human life. He's practically human, if a little chilly and blood-stained around the edges. But we still don't know his thoughts. The first person viewpoint is Charlaine's secret weapon in the Sookie Stackhouse books - but what about us poor sods trying to write third person?

So how do I make them real?

I think Sherilyn Kenyon does this well in the character of Acheron, who appears in all of her Darkhunter books. Secret God and immortal do-gooder, Acheron keeps it real because his immortal job is closely intertwined with the protection of humanity. In the book about Acheron himself, we find out about his abusive childhood and we understand why it is he ranges himself so strongly on the side of the underdog.

Is the this key to writing a convincing immortal hero?
Answers on a postcard (or a comment) please!

Thoughts, hints, personal viewpoints all greatly appreciated...

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Love buds ... or the icky business of writing sex

Merely Players has a sex scene.

We're not talking erotica here, just a romantic induction into the arts of l'amour which plays a crucial part in moving the action on. All good so far.

But how do you write the damn thing?

Writing sex scenes is hard. Not hard in an engorged, purple-headed soldier sort of way. Just difficult. How do you get down and dirty and remain consistent with the tone of your novel? How do you bring romance to the situation without making it hopelessly euphemistic? How do you add a touch of eroticism without turning into a Playboy short story contest?

Of course, depending on what style of writing you're doing you might want to be hopelessly euphemistic or spicily hardcore. But I don't want to be either. My work in progress is a historical romance with a relatively straight-talking heroine. I want the scene to have some steam - but I want it to play a part in developing my characters too. It's especially important to my heroine - it's the moment she jettisons the mantle of her inherited values and becomes her own woman. Or it's supposed to be anyway.

In the first draft, I plunged straight in and tried to write a scene in my head that didn't make me wince too much. It wasn't great and it was remarkably brief - which doesn't say much for the hero's staying powers. I sat back and looked at it. Some authors spend pages on one sex scene and it works. The reader is entranced by the seduction and stirred by the moment. I knew I had to go back to the drawing board.

At the end of the process I decided there were three main steps in writing sex:

1. The diagram. No, not literally, metaphorically. This is a recording of the nuts and bolts of the mechanics of what is going on. I'm reminded of a scene in the televisation of Diary of a Call Girl, which has the eponymous call girl's literary agent pointing out that for the scene she has written to work, the bloke must have had three hands. Oh yes.

So this bit is important. It's the skeleton on which the romance, erotica and characteristation will hang.

2. The language. This is where you put your flag in the sand. Are you a love bud or a clitoris fan? Both make me wince, incidentally, but each to his own. This is tough. The History Hoydens make a great point about sex language in historical romance, reminding us that most heroines of regency romance wouldn't have know the proper name for their body parts. So this, in fact, is a time to get deep in your point of view (POV).

What would your lady have named her own body parts? A scene from a lady's POV might therefore be quite different from a scene written from a man's POV. Your sex scene then should define the scenario from your character's perspective.

3. The characters. Having written my sex scene, I changed it quite a bit. I re-read it and noted the parts which my heroine just wouldn't do and my hero just wouldn't say. I built in something about her qualms and her motivations and I matched her actions to her feelings. Suddenly the scene seemed to make sense - it worked in the context of the story, instead of standing out like a sore thumb. Getting there....

After these three steps, I would run two tests:

1. The ickiness test. I got my critique partner to flag up the sentences she considered too much information and I reviewed each one. In many cases it was where the skeleton had overtaken the POV or I got overcome by purple-prose-a-virus or ick-blindness e.g. "Warm liquid spilled from her like tears".

2. The boredom test. If you re-read your own sex scene and find yourself skim reading - that's not good. It probably means you haven't got deep into your character's POV and that the scene isn't meaningful. Or that in an excess of mortification you've fallen back on tried and tested euphemisms that mean nothing to you.

I've done both, been bored by both. I think I'm getting better.

How do you approach the herculean task of writing a good sex scene? Thoughts, views and even better, advice, would be much appreciated!

For inspiration and advice, check out these links:

The Difficulties of Writing Really Old Erotica by Tracy Cooper Posey

Love Scenes and Details by the History Hoydens

20 Steps to Writing Great Love Scenes
by Karen Wiesner

Eloisa James on the complications of Bringing Past Sex Back to Life.

Thanks to the recommendation from the super smart Felicia Lind below, I just downloaded Stacia Kane's Be a Sex-Writing Strumpet - it's superb! Highly recommended.