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Flashback: Get passionate

You thought this post was going to be about writing sex scenes didn’t you? 😉 Sorry, but I’m talking about passion in the larger sense as defined by the Mac dictionary: strong and barely controllable emotion.

What are you passionate about? Global warming? U.S. involvement in the Middle East? Sea turtles? Education? Adoption? Animals? School arts programs? Immigration?

Pick your passion—no matter what side of the fence you’re on—and find a way to write about it. I don’t mean a position paper or a letter to your editor, though you could. I mean imbue your character with that passion and build a story around it. Or structure a book or series around a group that fights for or against your cause. In researching opposing viewpoints, you might even see the subject in a new light, and it should be easy to make the sparks fly between your characters if they’re on opposite sides of an issue.

Laura Griffin’s Tracers series features a forensics lab that’s dedicated to processing all crime scene evidence and helping law enforcement catch violent criminals. She came up with the idea after she found out that much forensic evidence is never processed or entered into a crime database. She took her frustration and created a fictional group with the passion to make it happen.

Michael Crichton made a fortune writing books about what could go wrong with the research he read about in scientific journals. Jurassic Park, Timeline, and Prey hit a chord with readers because he took a stand on a topic and built a story around it.

Robin Cook did the same thing for medical topics. Just try to eat a fast-food hamburger after reading Toxin. I dare you.

If emotion is the key to memorable characters and keeper-shelf books, then by writing about a topic that gets you emotional, you might just find that all-important element easier to write. And an interesting topic makes the research more fun.

So, figure out what shocks, angers, or delights you, and build a story around it. You might even teach your readers something and get them passionate too. Good luck!

Originally posted September 14, 2010.

Photo credit: SCREAM © Forca |

Bonus Post: Love the one you’re with?

When authors talk about themes in romances, one that often comes up is: You can't choose who you love. Much of the conflict in a novel can come from the fact that the hero or heroine (or both) doesn't want to love the other, but they can't help it.

But sometimes the opposite is true. Just as we can't stop ourselves from falling in love with someone, I don't believe we can force love or attraction that we don't feel either.

When I was sixteen, I went on a date with a guy I worked with. He was nice and interesting, a couple years older than me–always exciting–and I was flattered that he'd ask me out. I hadn't been harboring a crush or anything, but, hey, you never know, right?

He only had a motorcycle, so for this double date, he surprised me by renting a Ford Taurus–complete with CD player!–to ferry the four of us around for the night. It was fun. We ate at a fancy Italian restaurant, and my aging mind forgets if we went to a movie or what.

But at the end of the night when he dropped me off, I didn't feel any differently than I had at the beginning. I enjoyed his company, but I wasn't interested in a romantic relationship.

The next time I went to work, I heard that he was upset because he spent all of that money and didn't even get a good night kiss. Dubious logic to be sure. It's not like I was a paid escort. And I hadn't expected a big-money evening.

We could have ridden in his friend's car. Or mine.

I'm sure he was trying to impress me, but the bottom line is that I couldn't force myself to be attracted to him. No matter what he did.

Have you ever experienced an attraction you didn't want? Or not been able to summon feelings for a person you thought you should want?

This post is simulcast over at the Romance Magicians blog.

Theme with intention

Have you ever seen The Hurt Locker? It wasn't a big action shoot 'em up, there was no sweeping love story, and for a war movie it moved fairly slowly. But I think the reason it did so well is because it had a clear theme that every scene supported.

I’ve been struggling to understand concept and theme for a while. The words are thrown around a lot in craft books and workshops, and they’re fairly simple ideas, but for some reason I didn’t quite get it. Not really.

But somewhere between attending Suzanne Brockmann’s theme workshop at RWA Nationals last summer, watching The Hurt Locker, and reading Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat!, I think I finally got it. So here’s my understanding of theme and concept. Feel free to join the discussion with your own.

Concept is what happens in your book. It’s the story. It’s what you boil down to that one-line pitch called a log line. For my story Blind Fury, it’s something like:

A risk-averse programmer must rely on a thrill-seeking mercenary for protection when her quest for the truth about her brother’s death makes her a target.

That’s what my story is about in a nutshell.

But what about the theme? To me, the theme is what you’re trying to say with your story. It’s the point of the story. Maybe even an argument for or against something. It could be the moral of the story. And you might have more than one.

By the end of the book, what message(s) do you want the reader to get?

With Blind Fury, I really wanted to get across that “war is addictive”. I didn't realize it was my theme when I started, but that’s exactly what I wanted to say. And then I saw The Hurt Locker, which slams you upside the head with exactly that same message (even going so far as to use a quote to that effect at the beginning, just in case you didn’t get it). That’s when I realized I'd had a theme all along.

My book has other themes too. It’s a love story after all, so there has to be a theme there. Probably every romance has the overarching theme that “love will overcome” or something similar. If not, we wouldn’t have the HEA we promise.

So, what’s the point in understanding theme?

In my post called Get Passionate, I urged you to find something you feel strongly about and write about it. What I was really saying—but didn’t realize it at the time—is find a theme. Your story might explore both sides of an issue—and probably should to be most effective—but likely in the end, you’re going to choose a side for your character, and by doing so, you’re making a statement about that issue.

You can choose something as provocative as abortion, or as simple as an exploration of the consequences of dishonesty.

Jodi Picoult has made a career out of theme. As have Robin Cook and the late Michael Crichton.

In Toxin, Robin Cook tackles the beef industry, and he pulls no punches. He goes in with a clear agenda and deftly sells you on his point of view, but you don’t feel attacked because you’re reading a great book that lets you come to your own conclusions.

An important point, because we don’t want children’s fables where the whole book is an exercise in morality. Readers want to be entertained. But along the way, you’re saying something, whether you intend to or not.

I’m just thinking it would be better if you knew what it was.