In this post, author Anna J. Stewart talks about putting a fresh spin on a story and her latest Harlequin Heartwarming release, Building a Surprise Family!
One of the questions I often get is: Where do you come up with your ideas? The answer is, I get ideas from everywhere—but one thing I always try to do with those ideas is flip them on their head or, at the very least, write something unexpected. I think this is one of the very best ways to get yourself noticed by an editor and, once you’re published, to consistently build a core readership. Readers want to be surprised, especially in a romance where the HEA is guaranteed. Twisting a story in an unexpected way also helps to keep things fresh as a writer. One thing is for certain: if you’re bored writing the story, it’ll show in the words and your reader will feel exactly the same way.
In my August release, Building a Surprise Family, I had a very clear picture of Ozzy Lakeman, my hero. He’s been around my Butterfly Harbor series from book one (The Bad Boy of Butterfly Harbor), and he’s undergone some significant changes, both physically and emotionally. He’s also been one of my favorite characters, and I knew as I drew close to his HEA that he was going to need a very special heroine.
And by special, I mean different.
Different from the women he’s known most of his life from town. Different from the women he’s been dating through online apps. Different in expectation, in perception, and experience. Enter Jo Bertoletti, who arrives in town not only with some heavy emotional baggage, but also five months pregnant. Right from the start, she’d cornered the market on different. But she also stands out by working successfully in what is traditionally a male-dominated industry: construction.
I’ve found that having my heroines inhabit roles that are a bit unusual is a great way to add in that element of surprise. Construction is absolutely a male-centric business. Yes, it’s getting more inclusive for sure, but we don’t hear that much about women leading a crew or a substantial project. Add to that Jo is a problem-solver and a “fixer,” meaning she comes in when the job’s had trouble or someone has messed up. That’s a lot to put on anyone’s shoulders, but if anyone’s up for the task, it’s a woman like Jo. Meeting Ozzy, falling for him almost from the start, takes Jo completely by surprise and—as a woman who makes her living controlling things (or getting them back under control)—complications abound and hence…the fun ensues! The last thing Jo wants (or thinks she needs) is a man like Ozzy, who also happens to be a number of years younger than she is (one of those other unexpected twists). Add in a stuffed-dragon-dependent dog named Lancelot, and Jo and Ozzy’s HEA was definitely a lot of fun to write.
I love figuring out new ways to put a twist on a trope. If you’re ever stuck for an idea, if you aren’t sure if something sounds or feels unique enough to match your voice, try flipping the roles. Putting your heroine or your hero into a situation readers (and you) don’t expect is a great way to propel the story, and your creativity, forward.
Give it a shot and let me know! Happy to hear from readers anytime at firstname.lastname@example.org
Anna J. Stewart