Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Mindy Starns Clark On Building a Romance


Mindy Starns Clark's newest book, The Amish Midwife, is co-written with  Leslie Gould. It is a fantastic look at being in control of your life, and letting go and letting Christ direct your path even when that means pain and heartache.

 Thank you, Mindy, for taking time out of your schedule to share your hard earned wisdom with us. It is greatly appreciated.

Without further ado, here is the question we asked Author Mindy Starns Clark, and her erudite answer.

It has often been said that dialogue is how people should talk, but don't.  Romance in print seems to fall into the same pattern; it is how people should court but don't. How do you keep a romantic rhythm between characters in a piece you are working on both "romanticized" but still believable? 

This is a great question. Because I was trained in writing mysteries, not romance, I sort of invented my own approach to this. It may be a bit unorthodox, but it works for me. 

In fact, I teach this principle often a writers conferences, in a session I call "Making Mr. Right."

Generally, when I'm first fleshing out the characters in a book, I try to create what I call the "Puzzle Piece Phenomenon" (PPP) for the hero & heroine. It's kind of hard to explain, but if you try and picture two puzzle pieces that fit together, you'll notice that there are areas both concave and convex. Because the pieces compliment each other, they fit together perfectly. If you think of a character's strengths and weaknesses, qualities and wants, etc., you can create two people who will fit together as perfectly as two complimentary puzzle pieces.

This is NOT about "opposites attract,", it's more about two SIMILAR people with small POCKETS of oppositeness, in ways that prove to be healing for them both. 

For example, in my book, Under the Cajun Moon, I made Chloe an only child in a dysfunctional home and gave her a lonely childhood and a long-held desire to be a part of a large, happy family. Then along comes Travis, a Louisiana man from a large and loving extended clan of Cajuns. Though many women would be overwhelmed by so many people, immediately, we can see that this is exactly what Chloe needs.  We know that if she would end up with Travis, she would finally realize her heart's desire, because his family is part of what he brings into the union.  Of course, there's much more to their relationship than just that, but this is a good example of the PPP.  This thing she wants is one of the things he offers.

Another example, in the Disney cartoon "Beauty and the Beast," we learn right away that Belle wants "much more than this provincial life." Then we meet the Beast--and we realize that a relationship between them might just work.  (In fact, she's probably the only girl in town who could possibly fall in love with him!) She wants DIFFERENT, and that's exactly what he brings to the table.

This PPP technique works so well because it brings the reader more intimately into the situation. If I repeatedly show a heroine with certain strengths and weaknesses and bring in a hero that is the obvious compliment to many of those, and vice versa, then the reader picks up on that and begins to yearn for them to get together in a way that I think works a lot better than if I were to create unrealistic roadblocks, intense but inexplicably dramatic "heat" between them, or many of the other devices used in poorly-written romance novels.  

Also, it's important to note that the romantic hero in a story has to be the CHARACTER'S perfect mate, not the WRITER'S.  Too often, we create our own dream men and plug them into a story.  But if we want to craft a better romance, our own preferences will have little to do with it--other than a preference for an emotionally-healthy match, of course.  This is HER story, not ours, and we need to remember that as we bring in the guy on the white horse.  In my newest book, The Amish Nanny, co-written with Leslie Gould, our love interest is a 30-something Amish widower with red hair and a beard, 3 kids, and skills at woodworking.  Though that in no way describes my husband or Leslie's, it totally works for Ada, the heroine of our story.

Having said that, I do think the fact that I have been very happily married for 22 years helps me with the romantic elements of my story-crafting. :-). What I consider a "perfect" romantic mate is probably quite different than your average hero of a bad romance novel. For example, if you want a long, happy, peaceful union, why would you marry a man who is dark and brooding or who repeatedly infuriates you? Yet, that's often the guy you see in bad romance novels! I'd rather depict a more logical, loving, and realistic match for my female characters.

To me, a decent, hard working, gentle, considerate guy is incredibly sexy and doesn't need all the drama of contrived conflicts and barely-controlled rage, haha.  (Again, I'm not insulting all romance novels, I'm talking specifically about BAD romance novels, old and new.  I don't read much in the genre, but in my lifetime I've read some really good ones and some really bad ones, and I'm just talking here about the bad ones.)

What you said in your question about dialogue boils down to this: The difference between dialogue in reality and dialogue in fiction is simply the same words, but with the "fillers" -- um, eh, well, etc. -- removed, plus fewer interruptions, un-completed thoughts, etc.

Similarly, the difference between romance in reality and romance in fiction is simply what the same actions and emotions would be but pared down to a more basic level with fewer distracting factors and a heightened awareness of the elements that make these two people perfect for each other.  In life, I could name a thousand ways that my husband and I make a perfect puzzle-piece match, but if we were characters in a novel, that would be boiled down to perhaps as few as 3 or 4 ways.  That's enough for a great story, just as 3 or 4 "ums" and interruptions is enough for many lines of dialogue.

Thank you again, Mindy!

I highly recommend Mindy's books. The exciting news for those of us who didn't find her work before, is that her older series is coming BACK into print having disappeared for several years. Listed below you will find a list of Mindy's books. I warn you now, make certain you have time on your hands to finish her books when you pick one  up, because you won't want to put it down.

As always, PLEASE go and get her books first from your local Christian Bookstore, support the stores you have or you will wind up losing them. And also, go and bug your local libraries to get her work in because they are too good for your local branch not to carry them.

Mindy Starns Clark Books (fiction)
The Amish Midwife (written with Leslie Gould)
The Secrets of Harmony Grove
Under the Cajun Moon
Whispers of the Bayou
The Shadow of Lancaster County

The Trouble With Tulip
Blind Dates Can Be Murder
Elementary My Dear Watkins

A Penny for Your Thoughts
Don't Take Any Wooden Nickles
A Quarter for a Kiss
The Buck Stops Here


Evergreena said...

Awesome, awesome interview! The advice about the PPP is especially helpful for me, because I'm crafting a YA story that has a slight bit of romance (a hint of a hint, if you will!) and since I've never done anything like that in my fiction before, it's been hard making it believable. But the PPP technique has sparked some ideas. Thank you!

shieldmaidenthoughts said...

OOOH; I'm looking forward to reading her books; this interview was FANTASTIC! Thank you so much!!
~ Mirriam

everlastingscribe said...

Thank you Mindy! Oh, that is neat. I'll definitely have to sort through pairings and see if I can't tweak the back story a little of some of them. The exciting thing for me is one of the main pairs all ready has this going for them. Similar personalities with each holding in their back ground or core self things the other wants. Your advice here is so encouraging because it means I'm on the right track.

Also, a-men to the making the love interest one that appeals to the hero/heroine and not simply one that would appeal to the writer or reader.

Elizabeth Eiowing said...

This is awesome!!! Thanks for the tips!! :D

keepersofelenathauthor said...

Awesome! Thanks so much to Author Mindy Clark. :) There's some great insight here, and definitely makes me want to go read one of her books!

keepersofelenathauthor said...

Thanks to Author Mindy Clark! This info is super helpful, and it makes me want to go set up my own characters better.... :)

Millardthemk said...

Hey Mrs. Clark!

Thanks for being willing to help out the league. I very much enjoyed your article, though I myself do not write romance. I'll try to keep your principles mind mind though.

Great point about making the characters' romantic interest the perfect fit for the -character-, not the author!