Before we get to the awesome Shannon Donnelly, I wanted to be sure you all saw the winner of Tiffany Lawson Inman's critique: Angela Quarles!
I just finished reading a story that had a major problem—no sparkage between the hero and heroine. Even worse, there was plenty of sparkage between the heroine and a secondary male character. I started rooting for her to get together with that guy, that that started me thinking about sparkage—where does it come from, and how do you get more of it on the page?
The problem with the story mentioned is that while the secondary male character was a jerk, he was a charming jerk. He admitted his flaws, which made him more likeable. He had a past, too, and was trying to do better, which made it easy to relate to him (don’t we all want to do better?). He also had problems that put him in big conflicts with the heroine. Finally, she also didn’t start to drool and fawn over him—they had sparkage going due to rubbing up against each other's personalities.
So here’s my take away for what I like to do to get sparkage. The things I go for are:
Personality conflicts. This goes beyond misunderstandings or mild differences of opinion, or even external conflict. I’m talking base values that are in opposition—as in the Old Couple. They had sparkage due to one being a neat-freak and the other being a slob. Of course, to set up different values, I have to know their values to start with. It’s no good just having a hero, I’ve got to know his personality (and how it sparks against the heroine’s personality) and how this gives these two different approaches to life.
Flaws that rub. These can’t be random—her flaws have to hit his, and his need to hit hers. I want these two to realize very quickly that the other person does have flaws, and that those are deal-breaker issues. (Having them mirror each other is a great way to do this, too.) This can make for a couple that spark off each other like metal on flint.
The no-way Street. Immediate attraction is overdone these days and almost always comes across as weak. Yes, we’ve all seen someone who gets a second look. But that’s not sparkage—that’s going to end up being description. So attraction needs to be overlaid with a heavy dose of no-can-do (and I’m not just talking a character thinking about the other person being off-bounds, I want to show how these two cannot have a stable relationship at the start of the story. I want them on a 'no-way is this going to work' street so the reader wants to read how this is going to work (that’s the fun.)
Proximity. It’s really, really hard to get sparkage going if you have the hero and heroine in different locales. It’s like putting that flint and the metal in different drawers—the lack of interaction means a big lack in the story. But…here’s the trick—it can’t be contrived. I always want very good reasons for the characters to be together, and those reasons have to make it to the page.
Dialogue. The secondary character in the story I mentioned above had great lines (as did the heroine) due to their conflicting goals, and their personal issues. This made them a lot of fun for me, the reader—I started rooting for them to be together because they were fun together. The hero also didn’t get to have those great lines since the heroine was tongue-tied around him, which made them a dull couple. Too often I see folks putting all the great lines into thoughts instead of letting the characters say the stuff we all want to say—hey, this is where you want to have more fun so the reader has fun with your characters. I always want my characters talking—a lot!
Awareness. A character’s awareness of another person doesn’t have to be so much them thinking about the sexiness of the other person, but more on the awareness that the other person is a “match” for them. I like the awareness to be on the “personality” more than the “person.” As in I try to make sure my characters don’t want to lose a single point to the other person. In the story I mentioned the heroine and the secondary character were on their best game—they were out to get something, and were willing to do whatever it took to get it. When a character’s awareness is focused on getting what they want (or getting the other character to do what they want) that’s going to make for sparkage.
What all this means is my goal is to set up romantic couples as if it really is impossible at the start of the story for them to have a relationship. Thier personality, desires, and everything else I can think of clashes. It’s not that they find the other person desirable—it should be the opposite, in fact. I want characters who are certain that the other person is the last one they want to get involved with—but the sparkage makes it irresistible not to go back and get the best of that other person. That, in my opinion, is what leads to the start of a beautiful friendship—and then more.
How about you? What do you use to make your characters spark?
Shannon Donnelly’s writing has won numerous awards, including a RITA nomination for Best Regency, the Grand Prize in the "Minute Maid Sensational Romance Writer" contest, judged by Nora Roberts, RWA's Golden Heart, and others. Her writing has repeatedly earned 4½ Star Top Pick reviews from Romantic Times magazine, as well as praise from Booklist and other reviewers, who note: "simply superb"..."wonderfully uplifting"....and "beautifully written."
Her Regency romances can be found as ebooks on all formats, and with Cool Gus Publishing, and include a series of four novellas.
She also has out the Mackenzie Solomon, Demon/Warders Urban Fantasy series, Burn Baby Burn and Riding in on a Burning Tire, and the Urban Fantasy, Edge Walkers. Her work has been on the top seller list of Amazon.com and includes Paths of Desire, a Historical Regency romance.
She is the author of several young adult horror stories, and computer games. She lives in New Mexico with two horses, two donkeys, two dogs, and only one love of her life. Shannon can be found online at sd-writer.com, facebook.com/sdwriter, and twitter/sdwriter.
Her Urban Fantasy, Burn Baby Burn, is free on Amazon.com from September 1 to the September 5.
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