7 Reasons I Love Heroes

My writers group held a workshop last week on the anti-hero. Most people in the room could rhyme off whole lists of such characters and always with a little sigh, a yearning for the “bad boy.” The anti-hero is a very popular trope in modern day romance, not only in books but also in movies and television. 

To create the anti-hero archetype, we needed to look at heroic qualities and then turn them around. 

 


Hero                                                              Anti-Hero

     Selfless                                                                      Selfish

    Brave                                                                          Cowardly

   Honest                                                                        Dishonest

    Loyal                                                                            Untrustworthy  

   Moral                                                                          Follows his own code

   Kind                                                                               Self-centred

   Acts for the good of all                                     Acts only for himself


Of course,  these seven attributes are only a partial list of traits of both characters, but I’d choose the  “hero” over the “anti-hero” any day of the week.  I admit to finding the scoundrel style anti-hero amusing, think Professor Hill in The Music Man, or Bret Maverick    but do I  really want that man in my life? Could I trust him in the long run? When would his charm become irritating? When would he run off and leave me destitute?         

In our cynical world it is fashionable to scoff at the guy in the white hat, but I like my old-fashioned heroes. Matt Dillon in Gunsmoke, risked his life over and over again to keep the town safe. He was loyal. He was honest. He watched out for the misfits. You could trust your life to a man like that. 

Now I will outrage Jane Austen fans by suggesting that Mr. Darcy is not a hero.  He is arrogant, rude, self-centred. He has no compunction about destroying Jane and Mr. Bingley’s happiness, because of his pride. Where is the kindness in that? Admittedly, by the end of the book he has acted to protect Elizabeth and her silly sister but only because he can’t help himself from loving Elizabeth, not from any innate kindness. It sounds very romantic that Mr. Darcy will sacrifice himself for love but really . . . what kind of marriage lies ahead? Elizabeth will have all that lovely money but will she spend the rest of her life apologizing for her family? For not being the woman he would choose if love hadn’t played havoc with his plans? Will he always look down his nose at her? Will she always be “less than?”

I predict Jane and Mr. Bingley will have the happier life together.

The heroes in my books are definitely “white hat” types. Sean O’Connor in The Man for Her, has set aside his own dreams for years in order to look after his family.  He is brave –the rustler scene; loyal — the fist-fight over Lottie’s honour; kind — the way he treats Michael.

In Her One and Only, Grey North has some dark secrets in his past, but he puts aside his own desires to please his mother. He goes out of his way to protect Emma when secrets from her past threaten her life. He behaves honourably when he realizes he has compromised her.  He is a community leader in the growing town of Prospect, and he wins our hearts with a lavish gesture to show his love for Emma.

In Her One True Love, I’ve given heroic qualities to two men. Jack Kendal is a mounted policeman, committed to serve and protect, even at great personal cost. Daniel Stanton is a clergyman, his life dedicated to helping and serving others. Louisa has a hard time choosing between these two men because both are selfless, brave and kind. They fit the model of a hero.

In our politically correct world the term “hero” is being replaced with protagonist or main character. Those terms work well for the anti-hero, but they are too wishy-washy to describe the real hero of my romances. I’m old-fashioned enough to want the “good buy” even if he finishes last, over the “bad boy.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A

Visits: 1

6 Nostalgia Tips for Writers

Browsing through a box of old family photos and scrapbooks, I found myself weeping, while remembering happy events. Why such contradictory emotions? Nostalgia. 

The dictionary defines nostalgia as : a wistful desire to return in thought or in fact to a former time in one’s life, to one’s home or homeland, or to one’s family and friends; a sentimental yearning for the happiness of a former place or time.

That seems like a dry definition for such an emotional state.  

A further exploration of nostalgia determines it is a truly meaningful emotional experience, usually fleeting and fragile, that underlines a sense of something lost and finding it again, for one brief moment.  As one paper put it In that moment, you are connected; you have placed a phone call directly into the past and heard an answering voice .

Longing and Loss

In preparing this post I read several papers on nostalgia and they consistently pinpointed longing and loss as critical to feelings of nostalgia. That is why I cried over photos of happy times. They are gone now, the people passed away or scattered, the places changed almost beyond recognition. The happy memories are edged with loss. 

Beyond the dictionary definition, nostalgia evokes powerful emotions and thus, is useful to a writer of romance. In this genre, perhaps more than any other, the emotional reponse of the reader is paramount. We want our readers to fall in love with the hero, to weep with the disappointed, to despise the villain.

Nostalgia for Writers

    So, how can we, as writers, use the power of nostalgia to add impact to our stories?

    1. We can use it to put ourselves in an emotional state. Look at an old photo or call up an incident in your memory, that evokes nostalgia in you. Now that the writer is feeling fragile, vulnerable and maybe a little weepy, she can transfer that state to the character on the page.                                                                                                                                                             
    2. Use nostalgia triggers to hook the reader. The town of Mayberry never existed, yet millions of viewers identify with the place and the time, when they watch the Andy Griffith show. Why?  Because they long for the security and friendship and sense of belonging that attach to Aunt Bea, Opie and the rest. I’m not suggesting you set your book in Mayberry, but use a word or two to tap into that longing that resides in your reader and you’ll have them hookedon your story.                                        
    3.  Find triggers for your characters that will call forth a response from readers as well. Perhaps your heroine catches the scent of apple blossom and is swept back to a happy time in her own life. Even if your reader doesn’t like apple blossom, the sense of smell is a strong trigger for memory and they may recall their own favourite blossom or scent.  I just read an article citing red roses as a touchstone and my mind flashed to my Dad. To him, the only real flower was a red rose. In an instant, I was down the rabbit hole of memory, and the blog post that mentioned a red rose became memorable to me.                                                                                                                      
    4. We all share a longing to belong, to be part of a continum, to have roots. Help your  characters to find their HEA, by giving them that place, literal or figurative, that is “home.” The place they belong.  Call upon your own nostalgic moments to define the emotions that surround that place.    
    5.   In historical fiction, incorporating nostalgic elements can enhance the tone and setting to draw the reader into your imaginary world. Who can resist the image of a team of draft horses pulling a plough across the wide prairie? You can even mention the smell of leather harness, the dust in the nostrils of the ploughman, and the heat of the sun beating down from a cloudless sky.                                                                                                                                           
    6. Use nostalgic writing for reflection. Let your character muse on the passage of time since she was the prom queen at her high school, and all the changes and growth she has experienced since then. She may look back fondly or sadly on the girl she was then. That’s a decision for the author. Whichever it is, the reader will be drawn in — she’ll reflect on her own teen years, she’ll be emotional, maybe even shed a tear– and she’ll love your book.

    There are many ways a writer can tap into the powerful emotions that nostalgia elicits, these are only a few. Don’t pound your reader with all of them at once, but sprinkle a few bits here and there. Your story will have that little bit extra emotional writing that readers crave.

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    Visits: 11

    Join the Choir — Live!

    Happy spring, every one.

    This post is late going out because I’ve been busy with happiness. 

    This morning the World Happiness Report  came out. My country, Canada, ranks 15th in overall happiness and Finland ranks as number one, again.  Interestingly, in Canada, the under thirty cohort ranks as the unhappiest group in the country. Researchers suggest that social media is partly responsible. Younger people are on their devices much more than older Canadians. As we all know, social media highlights bad news, anger, outrage and disaster. No wonder constant users are less happy.

    Last week, I went to a vocal workshop. I didn’t learn much about vocalizing that I didn’t already know, but the presenter made quite a case for singing in a choir. Since 99% of the particpants were choristers, he was, literally, preaching to the choir. 🙂 He did have some impressive research to back up his message. Singing promotes longer and happier life. For one thing, singing is a physical exercise and requires good breathing technique. More oxygen to the body promotes better physical health and better cognitive health. Singing makes us happy so joining the choir relieves depression.

    Singing in a choir is also a social activitiy and that brings me to the point of this post. I haven’t spent a lot of time at the keyboard this week because I’ve been meeting with friends. As we all know, reading and writing, by nature, are solitary activities. Much as we all enjoy losing ourselves in a story or getting really stuck into the writing, we need to take time away from being in our heads and go out and be with others. 

    As a writer, I keep in touch with a few writing friends — we had coffee together on Monday. Time spent with them keeps me in the writing mindset, but it also opens my mind to other points of view, to news from the writing world and to some hearty laughs over any number of things.

    Later today, my book club (readers) meets. We’ll chat about the latest book on our list — another “misfit” story — and discuss if the author was successful at involving us with her characters. If so, why. If not, why not. Kind of like the “compare and contrast” questions on a school literature exam. We’ll also catch up on each other’s family news, lament the state of the world, and find lots to laugh about.

    Tomorrow I’ll go to choir practice and the day after that I’ll visit with an older writer friend who has been bereaved. Kudos to her for knowing the value of coffee dates even in the midst of grief.

    I can read and write by myself. I can find news in the media or on-line. But I don’t get the sharing and laughter that face-to-face meetings allow. Do you know that loneliness is now ranked as a health risk? That doesn’t mean a person has no people around. The studies refer to the “lonely in a crowd” feeling. Writers and readers might recognize this as a trope in poplular fiction. But, even though it can underpin a good story, it is not good for mental health. 

    So now you know my excuses for the delay in posting this blog. 

    Now do yourself a favour and go join a choir!

     

     

    Visits: 24

    Why Use a Remote Narrator?

    It seems every magazine article, blog post or email I’ve read this week talks about getting readers to “feel” the emotions of your story. Mostly the writers conclude that writing in deep POV is the way to get that emotional reaction from readers. For those of us who’ve been in the game for a while, this is not new advice. 

    I remember when I was a brand new writer, as yet unpublished, attending a workshop with Lynn Kerstan (Yes, it was a long time ago.). She talked about getting into character when she was writing from a male point-of-view. She said she’d sprawl in her chair in typical manspread style, loosen the top button of her jeans, roll her sleeves up to the elbows and stare at the ceiling while pretending to chew on a cigar. 

    Remember, this was a long time ago. My apologies to the sensitive males among us who would never act in that way. The point is, she was trying to physically take on the characteristics of her male characater in order to write in his deep point of view.

    As I write historical fiction, I often find a visit to a museum or one of the lovely old store fronts in my town help to put me in the right frame of mind for the story. Vintage fashion is a sure key to open the door to women’s lives in the late nineteenth century.

    Given all that, I was surprised that the two most recent books I read, set the narrator at a distance from the main characters. The reader was not “in” the story, she was “watching” from the outside. 

    Why would an author do that?

    In both cases, the plot centred on survivors of extreme violence, one a soldier from WWI and the other an officer in a rural police force. One might think that the writer would want the reader to experience the trauma of these characters but perhaps that was too intense, maybe even from the author’s perspective. Perhaps she was afraid that too much gore would turn the reader away.

    Also, it wasn’t the actual traumatic event that was key to the story, it was the effect of the event on the characters years later. The retired soldier who could never close his eyes without seeing the battlefield, who could never get the stench of rotting flesh from his nostrils. The police officer who fears for his life every time he knocks on a door or makes a traffic stop.

    As might be expected these stories were slow moving. The change that happened occurred largely in the chracters’ minds and in their relationships. Still, the books were memorable. I’ve no doubt the characters and ideas expressed in them will dwell in  my mind. I’ll have more compassion for the police officers and others who deal with the horrors of modern society. Every day on the news we hear of a shooting or an accident with deaths. The news stories don’t tell us the gory details. 

    In the police officer story the narrator relates a bus accident with seniors. The officers spent all day “matching body parts.” And that was only one day. The horrors build on each other day after day, year after year. When you think about it, it’s a wonder any of our first responders manage to hang onto their humanity. During COVID we hailed them as heroes. They are still heroes, even if the pandemic has abated.

    The books I read were gifts. I don’t think I would choose a story with a remote POV, but I’m glad I read them. With all the experts shouting deep POV at us, it is enlightening to read from a different perspective.

    Isn’t that what makes books so wonderful? You never know what insights lurk between the covers.

     

    This week two books from “observer” narration.

    Visits: 43

    Role of the Story Teller

    One of the happiest times of my week is Saturday morning, when my husband and I listen to a story on CD. Often that story is told by Stuart McLean. I’ve written about Stuart before on this blog. Follow the link if you want to re-read. He died seven years ago this month, and yet, his stories still bring me to tears and make me laugh out loud. What a legacy. 

    Listening to his tales makes me think about the role of the story teller. As writers I’m sure we’d love to think our tales will touch people years after we’ve gone.  If so, what kind of legacy do we want to leave?

    If I were a humourist, I’d want to “leave ’em laughing,” as Stuart has done. If I were a crusader, I might like to highlight the plight of the poor, as Charles Dickens did. If I were a classicist, I might hope to retell Greek tales in modern language, like the opera composer Niccolò Zingarelli. or William Walton. 

    But I am none of those. I am a spinner of simple tales, told to a small audience, who want to read about love and happily ever after and maybe learn about a short period of history in Canada. What legacy can I leave?

    I think Stuart McLean teaches me that tales do not have to be told on a grand scale, but they do have to be told with humanity. The characters we create must be relatable. No one is all good and no one is all bad. The “hero” of McLean’s stories, Dave, is about as awkward, and inept, and well-intentioned as a man can be. I don’t think any of the listeners aspire to mimic Dave’s misadventures. I think we do covet his goodness. Dave’s schemes inevitably go awry, yet, in the end, his kindness, his basic humanity, and his affection for both friend and foe shine through. A character worth emulating. A legacy worth leaving.

    Lottie, in The Man for Her, is stubborn and headstrong. She rejects Sean’s love because he won’t bend to her will. Someone who has been disappointed in love could identify with Lottie. My hope, as an author and a caring human, is that, in the end, my story will touch that disappointed lover, show her another way, help her give love another chance.

    The Christmas short stories I share with my newsletter subscribers are intended to lift hearts, to remind us of what Christmas is about. When we look for light in the darkest days of winter,  I want to bring hope, peace, joy and love to my readers.

    The story I’m writing now is about an older heroine, who has loved and lost. Perhaps it will help someone learning one of life’s hardest lessons. Grief is universal. None of us can escape death. Our culture tries to deny death, or hide it away, but every human heart will suffer that great loss. If I can tell a story that helps one soul in grief, I have done a good thing.

    My legacy will not show up in the history books, but I hope it will touch at least one person. I hope the tales I tell will make someone’s world a better place.

    What about you, dear reader/writer? Do you wonder about your own legacy? What is your goal?

    Visits: 15

    Happy New Year

    Yes, I know it is February, but I got sick shortly after New Year’s Eve and have spent the first month of 2024 with the covers over my head and cough drops at the ready. Not COVID 19. Rather, I got the cold-that-never-ends! For weeks I’d go to bed at night thinking I would be better in the morning, only to wake up worse off than the day before.  Apparently, many others have experienced this virus so I can’t even claim to be medically unique.

    Some authors would have used time like this to power through their manscript. Sadly, my brain was functioning only at a basic level, i.e. eat, sleep, sneeze. Even my reading was only accomplished in short bursts. I couldn’t even get through my Christmas haul of new books.

    In one of those short bursts, I got confirmation of something I have long suspected to be true for myself. I read better on paper. On screen, I tend to skim. For that reason, I pay the big bucks to order my favourite authors in paperback as opposed to e-books. 

    I learned a few new words.

    • Trichobezoar is another word for “hairball.” So the next time my cat embarrasses me by barfing in front of company, I can just use the big word and feel better. Kind of like Mary Poppins’ Supercalifragalisticexpialidotious.  I half-watched the movie from my sickbed and marvelled at what a spirit lifter it is.
    • The collective noun for hummingbirds is charm. What a beautiful sentiment. Outside my window is a charm of hummingbirds. In reality, hummingbirds are fierce little beasts who won’t share the feeder. They leave the flowers to fight off invaders. In other words, they’d rather starve than share. Not so charming!
    • Clutter is one of the words used to describe a bunch of cats. If you’ve ever had a couple of cats twisting about your ankles you’ll appreciate the sentiment. A  clutter of cats is digging up my garden.

    I also learned that readers enjoy seeing pet pictures on blogs. With that in mind, here are a couple from my “clutter.” 

    Now, my weary brain has to rest. I am recovering, but the journey is slow. I hope all my readers are enjoying robust health and gobbling up thier favourite books, whether on screen or on paper.

     

     

    Visits: 100

    Merry Christmas

    Only 12 days left until Christmas. I guess that is a bit backwards from the song. Anyway, I have sent a gift to all my newsletter subscribers — a short story. This one is called, A Pink Christmas.

    If you have not joined my newsletter list and would like to read the story, just hit the subscribe button in the right hand column.

    Wishing everyone a wonderful Christmas season.

     

    Alice

    Visits: 246

    5 Takeaways from Craft Workshop

    My writer’s group held a hybrid in-person/on-line workshop this month. Since I’ve missed the company of other writers since COVID changed the way we do business, I went to the in-person part. There weren’t a lot of us in the room, but man, was it good to reconnect. I know on-line offerings use the word “connect” but electronic connections are not at all like human connections. So, before the workshop ever began, I was in a positive frame of mind. Here are some of my takeaways from the afternoon.

    1. When the presenters from DarlingAxe.com started their talk, I was totally engaged. The title of the workshop was “Killing Your Darlings,” which is a common concept among writers and a play on the company name so it is not surprising that the afternoon was filled with wisdom and laughter and some basic writing advice dressed in new clothes. ( Kill your Darlings is writer shorthand for cutting out flowery, unnecessary words that please your creative side but do nothing for the story.) 
    2. One often hears experienced writers complaining that craft workshops have nothing to teach them but I disagree. There is always something new to learn. For years I’ve been hearing about “stimulus and response,” “scene and sequel” and it didn’t help me a bit when it came to the actual writing of my story. Sometimes intellectual concepts provide knowledge without striking the emotional chord a writer — and a reader — needs.Michelle Barker and David Griffin Brown talked about “causality.” i.e. every scene requires a character to make a decision. That decision propels the story into the next scene.  This is not a new concept, but, for me, the language was new and effective. While they talked I pondered the short story I’m writing for my newsletter readers. I knew it had problems because what my main character wanted was a negative. i.e. she didn’t want Christmas.
    3. One of the creative concepts presented was the “thread test.” This is a way to test if your idea can translate into a story. It goes like this: when A happens, B must do C before D. A is the inciting incident, B is the protagonist, C is the conflict and D equals consequences.  Eventually those consequences should lead the protagonist — and the reader — to the goal of the story. In the case of romance that goal is happily ever after. 
    4. As the afternoon progressed, aspects of story-telling were presented, examined, and remade. By the time we got to quitting time, I’d managed to rethink my Christmas story into action instead of static emotion.  I’d given the heroine an achievable goal and I’d created scenarios which would prevent her from getting it. In other words, I’d made a rudimentary outline. For a pantser that was an amazing accomplishment.
    5. When I celebrated my last birthday, I considered dropping out of my writing group. It had become a chore. I volunteered on the administrative team, but I wasn’t feeling the joy. I missed the people. In the end, I gave it another year. I’m so glad I did.If you’re struggling with your writing, I highly recommend finding a supportive writing group, taking courses, meeting up with a critique group — anything to give you real, live, human contacts. Artificial Intelligence is getting better at doing our work but it isn’t a friend. It isn’t a hug on a bad day. It isn’t a cheerleader when you finally finish that manuscript.

     

    Visits: 143

    Terror in Topaz

    Just finished reading Terror in Topaz, the fourth in the Harriet Gordon series by A.M. Stuart.  I’ve written about her other books, here, here and here.  All three books were set in Singapore in the early twentieth century.

    For this adventure, the author takes us away from Singapore and into Kuala Lumpur. Harriet, one of the main characters, does not like KL and neither did I. 🙂 Which just proves the author did a really good job of portraying this less than salubrious place.

    As we’ve come to expect from Ms Stuart, the story is rich with local colour and a conviction that comes from the author’s own experience living in this part of the world. Harriet’s story takes place in 1910, during the period when the British Empire was at its height.  So, not only do we have the heat and humidity and mosquitoes of the Far East, we have them while wearing Edwardian clothing and trying to maintain a proper English attitude. Kuala Lumpur, smaller and more insular than Singapore, is particularly hot and sticky.

    The mystery plot of this story concerns an infamous brothel named The Topaz Club, but there is plenty of intrigue surrounding the “upper class” English establishment as well. Curran’s mission, to investigate the club, is not as straightforward as it might seem. He learns early in the book that there is no one he can trust — except Harriet, of course. The story leads both characters into dangerous situations and, finally, a fight for their lives.

    There are quite a number of sub-plots as well —  another love story, family betrayal, an unrelated murder, more murders . . .  Oops, don’t want to give away too much. 

    Anyone who has followed the series knows that Harriet and Curran have had a long and complicated relationship. In this, book four, they finally declare their feelings. So, HEA? Maybe. I know the author is at work on a fifth instalment of the series and I doubt she’ll let our lovers have an easy road. At least, for now, the romance looks rosy. 

    If you love a little mystery in your romance, or a little romance in your mystery, I recommend Terror in Topaz.

    Visits: 47

    Feeding the Pioneer Spirit

    I’ve been feeding my inner pioneer spirit this week. The long range forecast is for a cold winter. Since I live in a normally mild climate, suggestions of a real Canadian winter have me scrambling. I’ve worked diligently putting the rose garden to bed, pruning and picking up every bit of fungus infected leaf. What a job!

    Apple Sauce

    We harvested the last of the apple crop.

    I’ve given away several bushels and am now making apple sauce from the ones with spots. I’ve got my mother’s old colander and pestle.

     

     

    When I first set up my own household I bought a new one but it was useless. The shape was wrong. The peelings (which give such lovely colour to the sauce) clogged up the holes and I ended by throwing out more sauce than keeping it. When Mom broke up her household, I got the applesauce maker and I’ve been happy ever since.

     

    I’ve seen social media posts making fun of old homemaking skills but I don’t laugh. For me, those skills are a tie to my foremothers. They speak of thrift and inventiveness. They remind me of the hardships overcome by those who came before me. I love quilts that are made from scraps of old clothes or leftover sewing yardages. Modern quilts, with fabrics purchased specifically for this work of art, are stunning and creative. But, I like to think of the frugal homemaker who salvaged usable bits from worn out clothes to make something lovely that would keep her family warm. The news has been filled lately with the amount of wasted textiles in landfills. The women who made quilts new all about recycling long before it became a “thing.”

    I feel the same about my applesauce. It’s a great way to use the fruit that has bruises or worm holes. Just cut out the bad parts and use what is good. Maybe that would be a good motto for life — discard the bad parts and use what is good. Part of the “good” has been the gratitude from recipients of my surplus crop. Those who live in apartments, or long-term care no longer have an apple tree at the door, but they have memories.  A fresh, hand-picked apple (even and imperfect one) brings smiles to their faces.

    Practising these old arts also helps my writing. I can read about peeling apples, but that’s not as immediate as holding the peeler in my hand. I know the pleasure of a long curl of apple peel. I know the pain of a cramped hand. I know the feel of juice running over my fingers. I experience the crunch of a Northern Spy between my teeth. One of the current buzz words for writers is “authentic.” Sowing, nurturing, reaping and preserving the garden add authenticity to my tales of women in an earlier time.

    Anyway, I’ve been happy channelling my ancestors this week as frost touched the ground and I held a crisp, red apple, fresh from the tree, in my hand.

    What pioneer skill makes you happy?

    Visits: 59

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