A few days ago we highlighted new Harlequin Presents author Andie Brock’s first Call–and also Laura McCallen’s side of things! In her post, Andie mentioned getting a detailed editorial consultation as part of the prize, so we asked about it–and she and Laura volunteered the details!
We think it’s a great letter, showing the scope of the concerns, offering some suggestions and encouraging the author to come up with the best ideas possible. Hopefully readers can find some useful things to think about!
Congratulations again on winning second place in Harlequin’s 2013 So You Think You Can Write competition and thank you for the opportunity to read your submission! Frozen Lives is an engaging read with poignant and emotional themes and your style and voice show great potential.
You’ve created a terrific framework, Andie–and two amazing characters in Rafael and Lottie!–but in order for this story to reach its full potential, and become the fantastic story we know it can be, we do think it needs a bit of further work. We absolutely fell in love with the opening of this story but the latter part of the book has strayed down a different path. The revision suggestions are therefore focused on bringing the story together by fine tuning the overarching romance and strengthening the character’s emotional conflicts, building the tension and pacing from start to finish.
You’ve got it all there so it’s just a matter of making the most of it! Let me explain…
The primary stumbling block here is that Rafael and Lottie’s emotional conflicts aren’t working to create believable, compelling barriers to their being together. Their individual internal conflicts and the strong, emotional connection between them should initially be built on sensual tension and character interaction. From there it’s about using their specific personal issues to further the development of their characters and show how they are inextricably tied together. It can be useful to think about their whole lives—from when they were born, even! —and ask yourself, what is it that has shaped them into the people they are now? What emotional obstacles will they have to overcome when they reunite, in order to be together? This ensures you know your characters inside out.
Remember that the reader must be able to see what motivates Rafael and Lottie to act the way they do – every little thing has to be backed up by a believable, realistic, emotional issue, so always be questioning ‘why?’. Thinking about these kinds of things automatically gives you more emotional focus to the character’s journeys, as well as helping you avoid inconsistencies in their personalities and character. It will also ensure readers can empathise with Rafael and Lottie throughout the story. We’ve put together some specific thoughts on both of their conflicts. Let me explain…
– Andie, Rafael’s conflict needs to be nailed down so that the reader completely understands who he is and what motivates him. Why is it so important that he have a baby now? There needs to be a big, inciting moment that is a suitable alpha motivation and explains why there is such a pressing need for a baby all of a sudden. Part of the reasoning can be his realization of what’s important in life after his accident and learning he won’t be able to father a child, but there needs to be a deeper, emotionally-driven reason that he may not be consciously aware of but he’ll come to fully realize later in the book. Also, how would he dress it up for Lottie to try and convince her to agree to his request? He’s always needed an heir (and she knows this) so Rafe giving her this reason wouldn’t be enough to compel her to do it. This is a massive thing to ask of Lottie so he needs a compelling argument to convince her to agree!
– After suffering through the horrible experience of losing a child, we found it difficult to understand why Lottie would agree to risk it all again, especially as it seems like she makes the decision to do it on a pin head. Wanting to shock and spite her mother-in-law isn’t a strong enough reason so what exactly is it that makes her change her mind? Dig deep here, Andie, and think about all of the internal motivations for this difficult decision. What is it that makes Lottie want to do it? Has she always wanted to be a mother? Why? Show the reader the extreme difficulty of this decision for Lottie and what it is that drives her internal struggle and motivates her ‘yes’!
In chapter one the reader sees Rafael set up as a dark, brooding, scarred daredevil—powerful and oh-so-sexy! Aside from the initial fall, however, we don’t see any further daredevil actions and as this facet of his character isn’t maintained it runs the risk of making his fall look a bit random and out of place. What we’d love to see is more of this fantastic aspect of his character woven throughout the story and less of the more playful and domesticated Rafael he becomes as the story progresses. Modern/Presents readers return month after month to be swept away by gorgeous heroes so give them a dark, brooding alpha they can really fall for and who will have them eating up the pages, eager to see his ultimate redemption!
In addition, it would be nice to see a little more of the story from Rafael’s point of view. Not too much that you give away all his secrets, but enough to let us understand more about the hurts in his life and what it is that motivates his decisions. This would add a fantastic extra dimension to the story and will create a stronger connection between Rafael and the reader.
Andie, we’re not getting enough of a sense that Lottie knows who she is and what she wants—which can make it difficult for the reader to connect with her. What the reader wants to know is that she exists in a wider world than just Rafael and that she has her own goals so that her motivations are all coming from an internal place and not simply as a reaction to Rafael and his demands. This will help to redress the balances in those instances (especially in the latter half of the story) where she comes across as a bit defeatist or as a puppet under Rafael’s control. Show the reader that Lottie is an independent woman in control of her own destiny—a heroine they can really root for!
Also, what is happening in Lottie’s life outside the bubble of Rafael and their marriage? Show the reader what it is she’s giving up by agreeing to stay and try for the baby. What family is she leaving behind? What is her relationship with them like and how will this decision affect it? Adding the family dynamic and using it to develop Lottie’s emotional conflict will increase her depth and really help the reader to understand her motivations.
The central romance is at the heart of every Modern/Presents and you have all the ingredients for a truly powerful romance with Rafael and Lottie! The goal now, Andie, is just to bring the focus more tightly on to them so that the reader sees them on the page and talking much more frequently. This is what will allow you to make the absolute most of all of the fantastic emotions at play in this deeply emotional situation. We know you’ll have your own thoughts on how best to do this but here are some of our suggestions:
Reducing role of secondary characters:
At the moment, it’s the secondary characters that are exposing and exploring a majority of the conflict. What readers really want to see, though, is Rafael and Lottie being the only people capable of helping the other through their darkest moments! So, have a think about the secondary characters—particularly Constanza and Maria—and look for places where you can pare their presence back.
In addition, Andie, we wondered how necessary Celine really is in the grand scheme of this story. Currently her character is not doing much to help realistically hinder or push the romance forward. In the past, secondary characters like Celine have been used as plot devices in series romance but it’s important to avoiding falling into that trap whenever possible. You’ve chosen very classic themes (which our readers love!) and because of this the story naturally follows a well-trodden path. It’s important, therefore, to watch for instances that might border on cliché (such as ‘the other woman’ or ‘the hellish mother-in-law’) and ensure that you’re putting your own unique stamp on this story every step of the way!
With this in mind, if Rafael is desperate for his wife to help him secure his heir why wouldn’t he tell her exactly who Celine is and what her relationship to him is? He may want to make Lottie jealous in the beginning, but when he’s bringing his newly pregnant wife home and they are happy with a chance at a future – his decision to not tell Lottie what’s going on risks making him come across as cruel. We’d suggest you consider reworking or removing her character altogether.
Increasing Rafael and Lottie’s page space:
Andie, as this is such an intense and emotional storyline it’s important that Rafael and Lottie spend enough time together on the page, alone. That way, readers can believe they’re close enough to truly go the distance, and also come into their own as romantic leads. For example…
– Could there be more dialogue and verbal interaction? Let’s see them exploring their conflicts in more detail and building up a more meaningful, healthy relationship.
- Show the reader how they’re feeling about each other and being back under the same roof with all of the tension of their failed marriage and the loss of their child still hanging over them!
– Could they spend more time together away from everything and everyone else at the villa? Ideally we’d like to see them get to the point of the embryo being implanted and Rafael whisking Lottie off to the villa by no later than the end of chapter three.
- This forced proximity will encourage them to really get to re-know each other and bond on deeper levels. Show the reader how their spending time together forces their control to break and everything to come crashing down!
- Be careful, however, that they don’t get too domestic at the villa (Rafael being a bad cook, etc.). Remember that although there can be a place for those nice scenes with the alpha being sweet they’re so much more powerful (and more enjoyable!) for the reader when they’re hard won.
– Show the reader Rafael and Lottie’s individual ‘I Love You’ realizations so that when they come to say it to one another the reader is 100% with them and it’s completely believable.
- And make sure you’re making the absolute most of this moment! They’ve finally overcome the pain of the past and are finding their happily ever after. The reader wants to see it in more than just a couple of sentences – THIS is the moment they’ve waited the entire book for!!
The black moment:
Andie, the powerfully emotionally faceoff over Seraphina’s grave had us on the edge of our seats! You’ve done a wonderful job of making this confrontation truly explosive but in order for it to work to its full potential and have the impact the reader expects (and needs!) the hero and heroine need to have been working extremely hard towards this moment. A lot of this building will come naturally as you expand the amount of page time Rafael and Lottie have together but a crucial element that the reader absolutely must see before—or perhaps even during—this moment is Rafael and Lottie addressing the loss of their daughter. Readers won’t feel satisfied unless they see these two deal with the pain and despair of their loss because it’s only after they forgive one another that they’ll be able to begin to find happiness and fully recommit to their relationship. There are so many elements at play here so don’t be afraid to dig deep and wring out every scrap of emotion you possibly can!
You have the basis of a terrific and powerfully emotional story here, Andie, and a lot of amazing material to work with as you revise – this MS is literally brimming with potential! The aim of these revisions is to get more of a balance between Rafael and Lottie’s individual conflicts, and refocus on how their romance helps them overcome these issues – this is the key to having the reader eating up the pages!
We’ve given a fair amount of detailed suggestions but please don’t panic! Have a read, have a think and let’s talk it all through over the phone on Monday.
I can’t wait to hear your thoughts and work with you to make this story achieve its full, powerful potential!
With warmest wishes,
To find out just how the finished project is–fantastic Laura assures us!–be sure to find THE LAST HEIR OF MONTERRATO from Harlequin Presents in January 2015! And follow Andie on Twitter as @AndieBrock and Laura as @LauraMcCallen.