It’s Okay. They’re Storybook Characters

Image of an open book with stars rising out.
© Can Stock Photo /
Kudryashka

I read an article the other day about the upcoming fall TV season. It mentioned that an actress on a top-rated show has decided not to return. The usual comments followed. Some people were sorry to see her leave. Others thought the show would be better off without her. One comment, however, was a bit odd. Among other things, the commenter said she prayed for the characters.

Say what?

The highest compliment you can give any actor, or fiction writer, is to tell them their characters seem real, but the keyword here is, seem. They’re fictitious characters. However real they may seem, they’re not actual living, breathing human beings. So while prayers for the actors, or the writers, would certainly be appreciated, praying for a fictional character is a bit creepy. It sort of reminds me of Stephen King’s Misery.


Some of my characters, such Ian PalmerAlex Montoya, and Gillian Matthews, were based on real people I’ve known. I drew on the personalities of real individuals to create them, but they’re all fictitious and certainly not clones of their real-life counterparts. I do, however, go to a great deal of trouble to make my characters as three-dimensional as I possibly can.

My characters experience their fair share of challenges, because plot lines, whether it’s in my genre, contemporary romance, or in other genres, revolve around tension and conflict. I love it when reviewers say they cheered for my good guys, and wanted to smack my bad guys. But again, they’re not real people.

I’m glad you love my characters, and I’m always thinking up new ones. You can certainly say a prayer for the real-life people who inspired some of them, but please, not for the characters themselves. They’re not real. Sometimes I wish some of them were, but that’s a post for another day.


Marina Martindale

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But Would a Guy Really Say That?

An attractive young man leaning against a wall.
© Can Stock Photo / javiindy

I was reading a forum thread discussing the differences between men and women. They’re more than just physical. A woman’s psyche is also very different than a man’s. It got me thinking about a challenge I face as a romance writer; writing a male character’s dialog. I’m always having to stop and ask myself, would a guy really say that?


Years ago I read, Men Are from Mars Women Are from Venus. And while I can’t recall all of the details, I do remember it talked extensively about how men are more analytical, and women are more emotional. This doesn’t mean one sex is superior to the other. It simply means that we think differently. So, I’ve modeled my male characters accordingly. The female characters will talk openly about their relationships, while the men are more prone to retreat to their man caves. Jeremy, from The Reunion, and The Journey is particularly known to do this. The challenge for me is when I have to have a male character discuss his relationship. I am, after all, writing romance. The main focus of the story is interpersonal relationships. So do men really talk about things like this?


One way I’ve handled it by having a male character confide in a female character. In The Deception, Steve, a supporting character, talks to his fiancee about his concerns over Alex’s relationship with Carrie.

an excerpt from The Deception.

“Is something wrong, Steve?”

“I’m afraid so.”

“What is it?”

“Alex and Carrie. C’mon, you saw it. They’ve become much too emotionally attached to one another.”

“They go way back,” she reminded him.

This time, in a conversation is between two men, I let them get to the point, as quickly as possible. They then discuss a solution. Had this scene been between two female characters more time would have been spent discussing their feelings

another excerpt from The Deception

Steve looked up when he heard the sound of someone tapping at his door.“Hey, Alex. What’s up?”

“I need to talk to you about something.”

“Of course. Come on in.”

I don’t know if this is how men really talk to one another behind closed doors or not. But if what I’m told by male friends, and by the John Gray book, is true, then I’m probably close. So far I’ve not heard any complaints from male readers.


MM

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Killing Characters Off

Photo of gravestones underneath big trees.
Photo by Fotolia.

From time to time nearly every novel writer has to kill off a character. However, I’ll only do it is when it’s absolutely necessary to enhance the plot.

The first time I killed someone off was in my debut contemporary romance novel, The Reunion. Gillian’s ex husband, Jason Matthews, was one of the villains in the story. He meets an untimely end, but it happens “off camera.” Gillian hears of his demise from a police detective. They say show, don’t tell, but sometimes telling can be more compelling.

I killed off another villain in The Deception. It happens near the end of the story. Most of the plot had revolved around this character’s conflict with leading lady Carrie, who’s finally won battle. However, this particular antagonist soon figured out a way to get even. I could have saved it for a possible sequel, however in this case the second conflict was directly related to the first, making a sequel redundant. Therefore, rather than have the story repeat itself, I killed the character off, thus ending the conflict once and for all.

In my soon-to-be released novel, The Journey, I killed a supporting character from The Reunion. This time the character was one I honestly liked. I tried to come up with a way for her to survive, but when I did the story simply wasn’t as strong. Her death was an intrical part of the plot. It happens early in the novel, but she still maintains a presence in the rest of the story.

I’ve heard the joke amongst my author friends that there are two kinds of people who know how to kill other people–psychopaths and novel writers. This first one definitely, although I’m not so sure about novel writers. Most of my characters die in accidents, and they’re usually their own undoing.

Marina Martindale

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The Journey Book Cover

The Journey Book Cover

Kudos to Wes Lowe. Once again he’s created a beautiful cover illustration for my next novel, The Journey.


Wes and I go way back. He started doing my cover illustrations in 2007, when I was writing my Luke and Jenny novels, (under the name Gayle Martin.)

I found Wes by happenstance when I was working on the second book in the Luke and Jenny series. The illustrator who did the first book cover wasn’t available, so I was left scrambling. Granted, I have a degree in fine art, but it had been years since I’d picked up a paintbrush. However, I still knew what to look for, and I could speak the lingo. So, I began my search and soon found Wes. Not only was he available, I also liked the tone of his emails. He came across as warm and he had a positive attitude. The illustration he created for me didn’t just meet my expectations. It exceeded them. Wes turned out to be a much better artist than the gentleman who did my first cover. Thus began a beautiful friendship. Our next project would be creating a new cover illustration for the first book.


Wes also did the cover illustrations for The Reunion and The Deception.
This latest illustration has an interesting twist. The other night I posted it on Facebook, and a number of people commented that the young lady looked a lot like me. Oddly enough, Wes and I have never met in person, although he’s probably seen my head shots on my websites. I thought that maybe he had used one of them as a model. However, it turns out that he didn’t. Must be one of those interesting coincidences. Or maybe it’s just the Universe reaffirming that I’ve found the right illustrator.


MM

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Oh My!

A graphic of a pair of red lips.

I’ve had some interesting feedback from some of the men who’ve been reading my romance novels. They tell me they’ve really enjoyed reading my sex scenes. Apparently, I have a talent I didn’t know I had. To quote George Takei, “Oh, my!”

Well, I must confess. I’ve actually done some research on how to write effective love scenes, and I’m happy to explain the techniques I use.

First, I take my time to build the sexual tension between my characters. The build up happens slowly. Arousal starts innocently, with hands accidentally brushing, or someone touching a forearm. The man may find the lady’s dress sexy. Sometimes horseplay turns into foreplay.

Certain body parts are never mentioned by name. I’m writing romance, not a medical textbook. My goal is to describe what the characters are feeling. I’ll refer to it with words such as, “she felt a sweet sensation.” We all know what happens during the act. My editor came up with a wonderful way to refer to it. “Reaching his (or her) release.” Oftentimes I’ll use the words such as climax, ecstasy or, the two briefly became one, when describing the euphoria the characters are experiencing.

In addition, I don’t use much dialogue during my love scenes. Two people who love each other, and are making love for the first time, probably won’t be in the mood for chatting. Likewise, too much dialogue would interrupt the flow of the story. I save the dialog for the pillow talk scene in the next chapter. One thing I will do, however, is to try to instill a sense of responsibility in my characters. Oftentimes the lady will be asked if she’s using birth control, or the man will stop to apply a condom. Most importantly, if the characters are making love for the first time, the man will ask the woman if she’s okay with what’s about to happen. My leading men are strong and masculine, but they also know to respect a woman’s boundaries.

And, finally, I only use these scenes to enhance the plot, and I use them sparingly. There are usually no more than two or three such scenes throughout my entire novel. My stories are about people and their relationships, and there’s a whole lot more to a romantic relationship than just sex.


Marina Martindale

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The Original REUNION Plotline

The Reunion front cover featuring an illustration of two lovers.

Like many authors, I write a treatment before I start writing the actual novel. A treatment is a brief summary, a blueprint if you will, of who the characters are and what the story will be about. It helps solidify ideas and creates a starting point. However, once I begin writing, I put the treatment aside and let my characters loose. When the novel is complete, I’ll go back and look at the original treatment. To say the final story turned out differently would be an understatement. So, just for laughs, I’m posting what was in the original treatment for my debut romance novel, The Reunion.

Warning! Spoiler alert!

Many of the main points from the original treatment were included the final novel, such as leading man Ian showing up unexpectedly at Gillian’s opening at a Denver art gallery. It also included her subsequent return to Denver to hide out from her homicidal ex husband. However, a subplot about Ian selling his house and moving into a condo with his son, Larry, never materialized. Thank goodness. It was boring and did nothing to enhance the story. Likewise, many other scenes in the final novel were never included in the treatment. This includes a pivotal moment when Gillian nearly drowns.

The most notable change, however, had to do with the characters themselves. In the treatment, Ian’s ex wife, Laura, was shy and demure. A savvy businesswoman, she ended up being anything but shy and demure. Laura speaks her mind. That’s why Jeremy is so direct.

And speaking of Ian’s oldest son. In the original treatment, Jeremy was a villain. Aggressive, if not nefarious, Jeremy would only have a small role before being written out. Gillian befriends him and he then tries to force himself on her. She, of course, turns him down. Rejected, he soon enlists in the Marines and ends up being deployed to Afghanistan, leaving a furious Ian who blames it all on Gillian.

Nah, that definitely wouldn’t have worked. Ian would have never had such an evil son. Then Jeremy told me he wasn’t a bad guy either, although he is still drawn to Gillian. After rescuing her when she nearly drowns, he competes with his father for her affection. This created a whole new subplot which became the second half of the book. Many readers tell me it was their favorite part of the story.

The end of the story was fairly close to what was in the original treatment. Now I can’t tell you that because it would spoil it for the those who haven’t yet read the novel. Suffice to say that it all works out, and Gillian ends up with the right guy.

Marina Martindale

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Meet Jeremy Palmer

Leading Man in “The Journey”

A young, smiling dark haired man.
© Can Stock Photo / photography33

Funny how things sometimes work out. Jeremy Palmer was intended to be a rogue character in The Reunion. He would make a brief appearance, do his dirty deed, and disappear into the night. But things don’t always go as planned. I soon realized that leading man Ian would never have such an evil son. Thus Jeremy went from rogue villain to rival, competing with his father for Gillian’s affections. It created a storyline that many readers tell me was their favorite part of the book. Jeremy blossomed. Okay, he jumped off the page. He became a sexy, vibrant character worthy of having his own novel, The Journey.


The Journey begins approximately eighteen months after The Reunion has ended. A happily married engineer, Jeremy’s world suddenly turns upside down. His wife, Cassie, is seriously injured in a car crash. He rushes to the hospital and stays by her side. As Cassie slowly recovers the two befriend Denise, one of Cassie’s nurses. Denise seems familiar, but Jeremy can’t quite place her. Denise, however, has never forgotten how he jilted her, years before. She wants a second chance, and she’s about to unleash an evil plan to win him back.

Jeremy is a purely fictitious character, although his character is very similar to the young Ian seen in the flashback chapters of The Reunion. The inspiration for the younger Ian comes from someone I knew, long ago. And just like his father, Jeremy will make his fair share of mistakes, no doubt leaving some readers saying, “Like father, like son.”

MM

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Meet Maggie Andrews

The Queen of Mean in “The Deception”

A woman with short blonde hair.
© Can Stock Photo / yekophotostudio

Sometimes the villains I create are downright disturbing. Maggie Andrews certainly fits the description. She’s the woman readers love to hate in The Deception.


Maggie is the last person you’d expect to be so mean. She’s a stay-at-home mom who’s married to Scott, a software engineer. They have two typical all-American kids and live in a nice home in the suburbs. She and Scott also share a passion for art collecting. Maggie believes she’s living the good life. Unfortunately for her, Scott has been leading a double life, and her perfect world is about to be shattered.


Every morning Maggie likes to grab a second cup of coffee and catch up on her email. Then one fateful she borrows Scott’s laptop, and her life will take an unexpected turn. She’ll accidentally discover that Scott has a second email account. Her curiosity gets the better of her and she hacks her way in, only to discover something she never wanted to know. Her heart breaks, but whatever sympathy readers may feel for her will be short lived. A darker side of Maggie quickly emerges as she hatches a plan for revenge that will have potentially deadly consequences.


Maggie is a fictitious character not inspired by anyone I’ve encountered in real-life. (Thank goodness.) She’s a spiteful woman who’s incapable of forgiveness, even after those who have wronged her have admitted it and apologized for their transgressions. She’s also the personification of the concept that two wrongs never make a right. That’s why readers love to hate her.

MM

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Stuck in a Literary Sexual Rut

An open book with two pages folded together in the shape of a heart.
Photo by Fotolia.

Oh the problems one encounters when writing romance. As I explained in my earlier blog post, Sweet, Sensual or Erotic Romancethere is a distinct difference between sensual romance and erotica. In sensual romance, the sex scenes are written to enhance the plot as the characters consummate their relationship. The emphasis is on what they’re feeling.


That said, as I’m working on my third novel, The Journey, I found myself in a bit of a rut when writing those scenes. Let’s face it. There are only two kinds of equipment out there, and that equipment only works in certain ways. I was starting to worry that my writing might be become too redundant.
So, I decided to do a little research and downloaded a copy of an anthology called Little Birds, by Anais Nin.

Ms. Nin is perhaps the literary madam of erotic literature. I thought I might learn something new about writing from her. What I found, at least in my opinion, were stories that were a little cold. The characters were one-dimensional and lacked passion. Afterwards, I looked at my own writing. I think there’s something to be said for writing about what the characters are feeling, emotionally as well as physically. As for the redundancy; I suppose it is what it is. Even Ms. Nin’s stories were a bit redundant. Yet decades later, readers still enjoy them. I guess there are some things in life that people will never get tired of. Like chocolate cake.


MM

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No, I Don’t Do Formula Writing

No symbol of a circle with a diagonal line going through it.

I received the nicest compliment from a woman who told me how much she enjoyed reading The Deception. She compared me to Nora Roberts, which was very kind. Then she told me that unlike Nora Roberts, I don’t use formula writing.

I admit that I haven’t read that many Nora Roberts books, but she told me that every Nora Roberts novel follows the same pattern, and that her books are very predictable. What she liked about The Deception was that it wasn’t predictable at all. The plot twists kept her attention and kept her turning the pages.


Well, what can I say? I strive to create realistic, three-dimensional characters, and I try to write life-like story lines, albeit somewhat exaggerated. As I write, I tune into my character’s minds. I try to see what they’re seeing and to feel what they’re feeling. I’m concerned about the conflicts they’re facing, and how they’re going to resolve them. Therefore, I can’t worry about having to have the leading lady met the leading man by page ten, or about having my climax occur twenty pages before the novel ends. That kind of rigidness would destroy my creativity as stifle me a storyteller.


I’ll sum it up like this. Real life isn’t a formula, and it isn’t predictable. Neither are my novels.


MM

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