Playing second string, or, the importance of supporting players

Much attention has been given on this blog to main characters, their GMC (Goals, Motivation and Conflict), their character traits, and their story arc. What, then, of secondary characters and the supporting roles they play?

Like your hero and heroine, secondary characters need to serve a purpose in your manuscript. Following are some common secondary character types in romantic fiction, and their examples from Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen.

File:Pride and Prejudice5 1940.jpg

The Comic Relief

When the going gets tough for the H/H, this character provides levity. The wise-cracking little brother, the brutally-honest best friend, the class clown. This person is often the wisest character in the story.  Whenever this character appears, he should make the reader (and hopefully your H/H) laugh. Mr. Bennet 
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The Role of Fathers in Romantic Fiction

In honor of Father’s Day, I decided to take a look at the different types of fathers and how they are utilized (or not) in fiction with a few glimpses into how I have used the role in my own work. 

There are many famous fathers either applauded or ridiculed in literature.  Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird is often hailed as the best father in fiction for his moral strength, compassion, and his love for his children. On the opposite spectrum, Shakespeare’s King Lear in King Lear wins no props for father of the year for playing favorites with his daughters, not to mention promoting the practice of false vanity. 

In the world of Romance, the role of father is usually found somewhere between the two.  A father in romance can take on a variety of roles. 

Photo credit: 'J' / Foter.com / CC BY-NC

King Lear wins the award for Daddy Dearest
Photo credit: ‘J’ / Foter.com / CC BY-NC


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The Romance Book that Changed the World…or at least, mine

Every once in awhile, a topic comes up in discussion that offers as many varying viewpoints as there are people involved in the discussion. So it is with this month’s topic on the Femmes blog.

As I read Michele’s blog post last week, it occurred to me…there is a reason why there are so many different subgenres of romance. The books that immediately came to my mind, as the romance novels that influenced or impacted me, are perhaps not what you would typically consider “romances”, at least, not in the mainstream. They are the literary works that informed me, that educated me as a whole, and possibly, that made me the romantic I am today (behind the cynical, protective shell). Often, they are the books I read in high school in New Jersey, and later, at The University of Dallas in Texas.

There are many definitions offered on Wiktionary, of the word romance.

romance (plural romances)

  1. An intimate relationship between two people; a love affair.
  2. A strong obsession or attachment for something or someone.
  3. Love which is pure or beautiful.
  4. mysteriousexciting, or fascinating quality.
  5. A story or novel dealing with idealised love.
  6. An embellished account of something; an idealised lie.

Each one of these has found a place in mainstream romance novels, from The Bridges of Madison County to Fifty Shades of Grey. The novels that have inspired me are those that combine two or more of the above definitions.

Gabriel Garcia Marquez – copied from caribbeanbookblog.wordpress.com 

Michele touched upon one of my favorite authors in her blog…Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Although she referenced One Hundred Years of Solitude (a fabulous book, by the way), the book  that won’t stop pushing its way to the forefront of my mind is Love in the Time of Cholera. As the title suggests, this book is a love story. Actually it is two love stories: the forbidden love of Florentino and Fermina, and the practical love of Fermina and Urbino. Florentino’s personality personifies the love he shares with Fermina, as does Urbino’s. Florentino is flamboyant, soulful, engaging and optimistic, and his love is filled with gestures both sweet and grand. His passion flows out of him in passionate words and gestures. Urbino is practical and  methodical, and he provides Fermina with the stability that she needs to survive in difficult times as the city is overrun with an epidemic.

Florentino, Fermina and Urbino…from the movie

What makes this novel so remarkable to me is that, while the ideal of love is presented (see romance definition number 5), in many ways, the book depicts the lie that is idealized love. Romance novels of yesterday presented this ideal of love…innocent, demure heroine meets perfect, alpha man, there is little or no conflict of merit, they ride off into the sunset. Marquez’ book sets out from the beginning to debunk the idea that love is perfect. Fermina, far from pure and demure, defies her family in her youth, in order to be with her first (and true) love, Florentino. Throughout the novel, Florentino declares his love practically from the rooftops, yet his many affairs are detailed for the reader. Even the upstanding, practical, righteous Urbino is found to be an adulterer. All of which, appropriately, takes place among the sordid, filthy, rotting, disease-plagued streets of a fictional seaside town in Colombia, a town that, itself, is practically a character in the book. Yet, for all the dirt, the insidious treachery, the adultery, the philandering, the suggestion that love itself is an incurable disease (is love actually the epidemic from which the town suffers?), the purity of the love (definition 3) between Fermina and Florentino endures. Powerful stuff.

Interestingly, Marquez himself cautions against taking his book at face value. “You have to be careful,” he says, “not to fall into my trap.” *   *(Booker, M. Keith (summer, 1993) “The Dangers of Gullible Reading: Narrative as Seduction in García Márquez’s Love in the Time of Cholera“. Studies in Twentieth Century Literature 17:181-95).  From Wikipedia.

Which begs the question…is this book even a romance?

If you haven’t read it, I strongly suggest you read Love in the Time of Cholera. In fact, I just put it on my nightstand…to be reread.

A final thought:  My mother always called me her “gypsy daughter”. Perhaps it is the gypsy in me that draws me to books that create worlds that are, in themselves, characters.  Here are a few books that have had a great impact on me. What do you think…are they romances, or not?

A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

What books (with evocative settings) have influenced you? Leave a comment, and be entered in the July contest to win a trio of books from the Femmes.

Hugs,

Jaye

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