Tuesday, January 15, 2008


Sorry, no Bethany today. Talked to her this morning and she's mired down in schoolwork and a teething baby. So I'm filling in today, and it's actually timely because I can't wait until Friday - my normal blog day - to seek the advice I need. (So thanks to Bethany for giving me her day today.)

Okay. I need help with the book I'm revising. Here's the main problem: This is a romantic suspense reunion story. The hero and heroine had an intense relationship four years before. At the end of it, she though he was involved in some criminal activities and because of something she witnessed, her life and those of her family members was in danger. She decided to go into hiding and faked her own death.

Fast forward four years. She needs something from the hero - something she sent him right before she went into hiding that he's about to sell. She decides to steal it back, only things don't go as she planned. A series of events happen, she's seen by the bad guys and she and the hero are once again thrust back together but are now on the run. Lots of emotional angst here - he thought she was dead; she thinks he was only with her years ago for her connections and that ultimately his involvement in this criminal activity is what put her life in danger. Both of them have lots of secrets they hid from the other originally, but for different reasons.

The problem I'm having is that when I got my revisions back from my agent she wanted two main things: One, she wanted my hero to be much more angry than he is. Which is fine. I can make him angry, in fact, that's how I originally had him written and then backed him off. Sort of made me feel good to hear her say that because it made me see my original instinct was right. The second main edit she wanted though is much harder: She wants more showing, less telling, and she wants to see evidence of their history together. That in order for the reader to understand the conflict between them - and the suspense conflict as well because it all ties together - I have to somehow "show" more of their past relationship.

This has left me scratching my head. A lot. Because this is a chase book, the hero and heroine are pretty much on scene, either alone or together a lot. There aren't a whole lot of secondary characters for either of them to confide in or have "ah-ha" moments with. The way it's written now, I have two brief flashbacks from their relationship - one when they met, and one when things turned to crap. I tried to incorporate some of their backstory into internals, to let some come out in conversation, but apparently there was too much of that. I've never been big on flashbacks, but I'm not entirely sure how else to do this. If anyone has any suggestions in this situation, I'd love to hear them.

I've read a lot of reunion stories - and I love them - but writing them is a whole other ball of wax for me. One I read started with a prologue that was the pivotal betrayal/breakup scene between the hero and heroine, then chapter one went back into the past and for the first four chapters showed their past relationship. Then at the end of that the book jumped ahead to the present and the ultimate suspense that came out of that betrayal/breakup. Another one I read that I really liked had a couple of tense "present day" suspense chapters to get you introduced to the characters, then the next chapter went back in time to show the growing relationship, then the following chapter jumped ahead to the present. This was an interesting way to do it, and though it sounds strange, I really liked it. I found myself reading the "present" chapters to see what was happening now, then intensely reading the "past" chapters to see what had happened in their relationship to make things turn so bad. By about the halfway point, the "past" relationship had played out and the author moved all into the present, but there were still a few questions from the past left unanswered that kept the reader looking, and those answers were eventually revealed when the hero and heroine finally had one of those "deep discussions."

So I know there are lots of ways to do this, I'm just stumped as to how to proceed. If any of you have any pearls of wisdom on this, I'm all ears. Alice keeps reminding me of "Raiders of the Lost Ark". How the hero and heroine had a past history that caused their romantic conflict, but that it didn't need to be explained for the audience to understand their problems. That's totally true, but when I looked back on that, I realized their past conflict didn't tie into the movie's current suspense plot, and mine does. Which takes me right back to where I was before - how do I "show" their history because it's so important to the present plot?


Karen Duvall said...

I've never written a reunion story, but I enjoy reading them. If you approach it like any story that deals with characters shaped by their past (which is pretty much the essence of any story), I'd think you could come at it the same way.

I understand your concern about using too much backstory, as in flashbacks, because it can stagnate a story by slowing its progress. Yet at the same time you need to reveal the relationship your H and h used to have. I assume you've already asked yourself questions about how the two of them have changed over the past 4 years. There are probably some trust issues, guilt issues, and X isn't nearly as important now as it was then because of Y. I think contrast is an excellent way to reveal past relationships.

So, I can see you slipping in items from the past, but not as full blown scenes. He jiggles the change in his pocket when he's nervous, the same way he did on their first date. She'd know he had calmed down once the chinking of coins stopped, only this time it wouldn't be a kiss that soothed his nerves. It would be a fist to his chin. Or some such. You know what I mean. It's just narrative summary with plenty of sensory detail make it compelling.

That's how I'd do it, but I'm not familiar with your story so I don't know if something like this would even work. I summarize pieces of backstory in my book to show growth and change for my POV character. In my case, it's important to show what she's lost in order to emphasize the importance of her getting it back. In her case, it's freedom and a sense of belonging.

Sorry I couldn't be more help, but I know you'll work it out. I believe it you! 8^)

Karen Duvall said...

That was supposed to be "I believe in you." Damn fingers.

Lisa Pulliam said...

Well I'm not going to be of much help because I like the book how it is. Humph! ;) I haven't read many reunion stories, and it seems that all of those either did flashbacks or part of the book was in the past, then fast forward to the present and the reunion. I don't think that would necessarily work. My first reaction is that a prologue might take care of a majority of the need. They can really set the tone for a book. And since it's a suspense, it shouldn't be slowed down with other things like Karen said.

Elisabeth Naughton said...

Thanks, Karen. ;) Yeah, I totally understand what you mean.

Actually, that's how I have it written - snippets of their backstory relationship coming out in internals/narrative, some in conversation, etc. The other thing my agent wanted me to edit, and which I failed to mention in my post though, was to cut back on the "head" time (esp. for the hero), and to eliminate a lot of those internals. (Which is funny, because for years my CPs were telling meto ADD internals because I was so the other way on the internal scale. LOL)

So...cut the internal/narrative "telling" of the past relationship and "show" it instead.

See my problem?

Elisabeth Naughton said...

LOL. Thanks, Lisa. Since I've been going through editing some of those internals, I see the value in cutting them, and my agent's right, it's made the piece stronger. But I'm still stumped as to how to "show" their past relationship.

Paty Jager said...

The best way is going to be through dialog and how they react to one another through the other person's eyes. If that makes sense.

Just my thoughts on it.

Karen Duvall said...

Oof. I really do see your problem. Show something that's happened in the past, but take it easy on the flasbacks and reduce the head time. And their conversations? Uh, yeah. Coming right up. 8^)

Can't they act out what's in their heads? I mean, give a summarized memory of the past, and then show the contrast in their relationship between then and now as it happens in real time. Instead of making mental comparisons, they act it out on stage. Think about the jingling money in the pocket four years ago, see her punch him out today. That sort of thing. Or does that not "show" enough?

I know what you mean about the internalizations. I'm a skimper in that department, too, and the CP is always after me to get the heroine to express her feelings more through her thoughts so that she'll appear more vulnerable. She can't be a hard ass all the time.

If I were you, I'd ask your agent specifically what she's asking you to do. Can she give some examples?

One thing I've learned from revision letters is that what the editor or agent says isn't necessarily what they mean. She wants you to "show" their past relationship, but maybe that's the solution she's come up with for some other problem she's seeing. I had a revision suggestion from an editor that said "this scene is contrived" when it was my favorite scene in the whole book! Contrived? But, but, but... Turns out that the scene appeared contrived because the heroine was reacting out of character. Shazam! Major lightbulb moment. So getting to the solution isn't always as obvious as what the problem seems to be.

Alice Sharpe said...

I don't know what I have to offer. What Karen says makes sense to me (when I understood it;-) and I agree that it does sound like your agent is asking a whole lot.

Have you tried a prologue? That's how I started my last reunion book. It was all him but it covered the event that went on to tear them apart and form the mystery. Could you do something like that, maybe on the day she faked her death, the last moment she saw him and how angry she was or whatever. And also, if you have read books that tried it a certain way that you enjoyed, then why not give it a spin.

Personally, I love the idea of a book staring with her faking her death. That's pretty damn dramatic. You can work a lot into that. It could be a whole chapter even, from the moment she realizes (mistakenly, but we don't know that because she doesn't) that he's a cheat and thus she and her family are in danger, to the moment she fakes her own death. There could be a scene between the two of them as well where we would see the old relationship, at least through his sensibilities as she's all ready suspicious. At the end, she fakes her death and the next chapter begins "Four years later...." I read this format in mysteries all the time because of the huge backlog of information that's needed to be understood to set up the current story.

I don't know if any of that made sense. Sorry I won't see you tonight, but like karen, I have perfect faith you'll figure out what works for you. I can see now that my suggestion to remember Raiders was ill thought. Oops.

Karen Duvall said...

Prologues are cool, I guess, and I see them more in category books than I do in single title. There's a really interesting opinion piece on prologues here:

My book starts in the heroine's past, but I call it chapter one. Even if it is technically a "prologue," there are too many prejudices against prologues that I don't want to shoot myself in the foot. I've heard editors flat out say they won't publish a book with a prologue (of course it's personal preference only). Lots of readers skip prologues and start reading at chapter one. I used to do that, too, but don't anymore. The reason I used to is because prologues were infodumps in the olden days. They aren't anymore.

Speaking of editor preferences, I once talked to an editor with a big publishing house who will not publish a story that has a child in it. She doesn't like children to appear in adult fiction. WTF?

Elisabeth Naughton said...

There is a lot that comes out through dialogue, Paty, but not until later in the book. My hero has a real chip on his shoulder through the first half of the book and isn't really willing to listen to the heroine's side of anything (for good reason). And by doing what my agent asked - making him "more" upset, it severely limits a lot of this history coming out in conversation.

Elisabeth Naughton said...

Actually, a good portion of ST RS's start with prolgues, Karen, so I'm not worried about whether or not to use them. I know some people tout the "rules" of not using a prologue, but I think editors (and agents) are smart enough to know when you have a prologue whether it's labeled as a prologue or chapter one. That's semantics, really. And good writing trumps all "rules", which is what I think we're all striving for.

I like Alice's idea of a prologue - I'm thinking of the crime the heroine witnessed that forced her into hiding in the first place. Will have to ponder that more tonight when the kids go to bed. But I also agree with you, Karen, in that you could be right and there could be a couple of things here that my agent sees needing fixing even though she might not be able to pinpoint which one thing is causing the problem. Already, just limiting a lot of the "head" time has really changed the book (in my opinion), so maybe "more" history isn't necessarily needed, just done in a different way.

Thanks to everyone for all your suggestions! I do appreciate it!

Paty Jager said...

Okay, sounds like you're headed in the right direction, Eli. Good luck with the revisions.