Where’s Your Unpredictable? The Harlequin Editors Want to Know!

Pulling up some more old files uncovered another of our checklist/mandates from a few years ago. There are themes that work really well for us–but tell the stories in an unexpected way!

This is more focused on the “unpredictable” factor. At Harlequin, editors balance two ideas–the consistent promise to our readers and the fresh, fun story. Our readers trust us–and our authors–to deliver a strong emotional story that touches on their favorite elements but isn’t exactly like every story out there.

And as you know, that’s a hard line to walk! Here are some more questions to ask…

  • Are there unexpected obstacles throughout the story?
  • Are there unanticipated moments between the characters?
  • Does the story feel fresh and exciting?
  • Does the language avoid cliched words and situations?
  • Are you giving your all to this book rather than saving it for another?

Sounds easier said than done, of course!

But continue to take inspiration from some of the “oh, no, she didn’t!” plot twists and turns in shows like Orphan Black, Scandal and Revenge.  Those authors usually manage to balance the unexpected with the inevitable. Exciting elements happen that are hopefully based in the characters and the plot. They balance the two sides–a believable, convincing story that is not like anything else you’ve read–or written before!

And at the heart, if you-the-author approach the story with a sense of excitement, enthusiasm and commitment, it will show!

Oh, one last piece of advice when writing a series. Don’t think of a really good idea and then save it for another title, even if it would work really well in this one. Be sure that you are giving your best ideas to each book each time. But on the other hand, don’t raise the stakes so incredibly high your characters can’t convincingly achieve their goals. It’s a tough line to walk, but that’s when your imagination, your abilities and your talent comes in!

Good luck!

4 replies on “Where’s Your Unpredictable? The Harlequin Editors Want to Know!”

Interesting post! This is a hard balance to strike, indeed, but I love playing around with classic tropes and trying to put my own spen on them.

I love the advice about not saving all your good ideas for another title. I am working on what I think will be the first in a series right now, and I’m making sure that I try to concentrate mainly on this story and not save things for another story. I am working on learning to sprinkle details of the other characters in as unobtrusively as possible. I’m sure I will be asking myself the questions in this blog in the future when I get to revisions!


Yes, exactly! A tough line to walk between using the classic themes and figuring out just how to make a marriage of convenience convincing in this day and age! 🙂

And I think readers–and editors–do appreciate authors making sure each book is as big as possible with the stories and plots that work, rather than not committing to something because it might work better elsewhere.

Happily, imagination is not a finite glass–it’s a well, a river, a waterfall, that can grow larger with practice! (okay, not a great analogy, but am not a writer! :))

The comment saving a good idea for another title really connected with me. I have fallen into this trap. What I discovered, is that the idea never went anywhere. Once I stopped pigeonholing great ideas for a specific outcome it seemed the stress came off — the idea and the story flowed nicely.
There will always be new ideas 🙂

It’s both a gift–and a curse!–to navigate that balance of keeping your goal in mind and exploring the elements that make the story seem fresh and original and page-turning!

But I do think it’s best to give your all to each book to make it the strongest possible story. You never know if this is the book that a first-time reader will pick up and get wowed by, or wonder why you seemed to be holding back and not trusting the story.

Authors have an incredible well-spring of imagination and even just a short brainstorming session–with editor, critique partner, family member or even an imaginary argument with a character!–can bring forth lots of new directions.

Can’t wait to see the ones you’ve done for us!

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