As a journalist for more than 25 years, I have covered everything from terrorism in the Middle East to Sex & Relationships (Yes, I did an actual story for a major newspaper on the “love muscle” – don’t ask).
As an author, I went from writing award-winning historical fiction to penning a hardcore sexy beach read. And guess what, shhh … I’m thinking of jumping ship again. I just turned in a new manuscript to my agent, which is very suspenseful.
In the publishing world, Genre Jumping is a cardinal sin. Your “brand” is your brand and it’s engraved in stone: You can’t write love stories if you’re a crime writer. You can’t write Sci-fi if your readers are expecting Erotica. You can’t write a war story if you’ve been named one of Goodreads top Romance writers. In other words, you’re locked in, and that key is tossed.
I guess I’ve always been the girl who can’t sit still, who can’t be pinned down, who never takes No for answer.
But here’s the thing … I’m not all over the place. There is a method to my madness; a thread running through all of my work. It comes down to this: How far would you go for your passion?
Crime writers give us bullets to the brain, romance writers focus on bullets to the heart. My take is that both tend to lead us to the very same place. Finding your passion is both the journey and the destination behind a really good character.
In my first novel Fugitive Colors, a suspenseful tale of an artist’s revenge on the eve of WWII, passion drives all of my characters, who live in a world where a paintbrush is more lethal than a gun. One young artist steals art, another dies for his art, and another stands up for art at his own expense.
In The Unbreakables, Sophie Bloom, my protagonist, loses her marriage, her besties, and her art. In a nutshell, she is living a passion-less life and has to go find herself once again. In my work-in-progress, a young journalist’s deepest passion is getting to the truth no matter the cost, nearly losing everything in the process.
Passion: Would you die for it, kill for it, or stand up for it? This genre-jumper takes this theme, asks these questions, wherever she goes. As a novelist, I think like a journalist. Here’s how I recommend finding your characters’ raison d’etre. Let’s go Old School:
Who: Your protagonist and minor characters all have a passion that drives him/her. What is it, and how does it intersect with the other characters?
What: If passion is the carrot, what is the stick? What gets in the way of your characters’ passion? A problem arises …
When: In love and war, timing is everything. Go strong, go fifth gear, make us feel that passion being taken away in a pivotal moment. Because later on, when they get it back, the reader will truly feel the impact.
Where: Where does all this action unfold? The setting must have a powerful pull for our characters. It, too, must feel sexy, enticing; a place where passion meets its environmental match.
Why: Is fighting for this passion worth a full book? Is it worth a reader’s time? Tell me through the character’s actions and thoughts why I should care? Why love/art/money/romance/power (name your passion) is worth 350 pages to get it back.
How: This is what makes or breaks your book. How is your protagonist going to get what she wants in the end? How much rope will you give her to get it?
I may be a mutt of a writer, but the one constant in everything I do – writing/parenting/wife-ing—is passion. How far will I go to get it? The distance, baby.
HANK: So agree–every day, I think: what what does my character want, and how far would they go to get it. But! In real life do I think that? My Mom used to say–“You will if you want to.”
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