Maybe that should have been “wargaming Anna.” That’s what Bob used to call it when we talked out a book, and it’s probably more accurate. The thing I like about this chat is that it shows the value of a critique partner asking questions. Bob offers a lot of suggestions that I don’t agree with, but every one of them makes me think while I justify my answers. He doesn’t get mad when I say, “No, that’s not it,” he just hits me with something else. The idea is that, as I explain it to him, I explain it to myself. Then he read Part One and pointed out something I really needed to clarify (twin sets) and something I really needed to change (skinhead), so the guy is invaluable.
Where do you want to start, Bob?
One Sentence Idea: Anna has made a calm, safe life out of lying low, but a relationship implosion, a crisis at work, and a one-night stand in Vegas leave her exposed as her family’s criminal past comes to light, her one-night stand turns out to be an FBI agent, and her job gets her entangled with art crime, money laundering, a power struggle in museum management; and an unknown stalker who is probably trying to kill her; fortunately, there’s a lot more to Anna than just a librarian in a twinset.
jenny 5:00 PM
I have this thing about “Can he protect her?” stories. There are a lot of romances out there with Green Berets (sorry) and SEALS who save helpless beautiful heroines. And I have an FBI agent hero who tries to go that way and then finds out Anna can protect herself since her mob grandpa trained her in survival skills every Sunday from the time she was six til she turned sixteen (then he went to jail).
I meant, I don’t LIKE “Can he protect her stories.” So this is my anti-can-he-protect-her story. I like heroines who kick ass.
I like the mob grandfather. Which could also give her a lot of good connections with some interesting characters.
jenny 5:02 PM
I started with her picking up a guy in Vegas. It’s a romance. I read a BookBub blurb about a woman going after revenge sex after her boyfriend dumped her, a pretty common romance premise, lotta cheating boyfriends out there, and thought, “You know, I could do something different with that” and I saw Anna in Vegas and just started to write. The mob showed up later. I was surprised.
“Exactly how are you going to show your boyfriend that you had sex with me?”
“Oh, I’m not,” Anna said, hastily. “He doesn’t have to know. I just have to know.”
“So no cameras.”
“Oh, god, no.” Anna tried again. “I just want monumental headbanging revenge sex. I have no diseases and I’m on the pill and I bought condoms.”
That’s not the story. That’s just how she meets him. The story is their romance, and the subplot is the art crime/money laundering thing.
You want to see Main Plot and Subplot Conflict Boxes?
This is going to be hard for you; romance is pretty much always your subplot.
jenny 5:10 PM
Yes, but he doesn’t realize she’s just come out of the office, there are three other agents there and he’s not the one watching the office, so he doesn’t know she’s a suspect.
And it’s late and they’re about to quit, so the one who sees her come out of the office doesn’t see him with her.
It really works out well because it means that once he finds her again, he can’t sleep with her because it would compromise his job. So there’s a real barrier to the romance.
Bob Mayer 5:11 PM
Okay– you’ve got the antagonist as the love interest. I get it’s a romance. But it would seem the antagonist is the Russian mob. Nate and Anna can butt heads but ultimately have to work together to fight the Russian mob which is going to be a bigger threat than each other.
Bob Mayer 5:12 PM
That’s just what I was going to write– their conflict will be his job, even after the one-nighter. So the sexual tension is twisted. Perhaps his team has been frustrated trying to break this case and she’s going to provide the key to it. Actually lead them.
jenny 5:12 PM
I am still way in the weeds on the action subplot. But that’s the subplot. The main plot romance is how are they going to get together.
And by part three, she’s really mad at him and her mother wants him dead, and he’s annoyed with her because she shoots somebody in front of him.
Bob Mayer 5:14 PM
Since you have the mob grandfather, I’d say that’s the subplot connection. He was involved, then went to prison. Whatever he was involved in could have died off, but then the Russians come in and revive it. In doing so, they hurt some of grandpa’s old friends.
jenny 5:14 PM
The romance conflict is that they had these idealized images of each other after the one night stand, and then meet each other back in real life and find out they’re very different people. Still wildly attracted to each other of course.
jenny 5:15 PM
I’m thinking Grandpa was just the way she got the skills that are going to make Nate crazy. I think the Russians are using art to money launder. Grandpa was a hitman. He’s back story, although they’ll naturally look at that.
jenny 5:15 PM
They didn’t pretend to be anybody, they were honest with each other. They just both knew it was a one-night stand, so they didn’t swap back stories and just made assumptions about each other. It’s important to me that they’re always honest with each other.
He thinks she’s a mild-mannered librarian (which to be fair is how she deliberately presents) who needs protected, casting himself as a standard romance hero. She thinks he’s a rich trust fund guy. Then they find out that she’s a mob granddaughter who’s an ace shot (but only to protect herself) and he’s a Fed in the art crimes division trying to pin money laundering on her (he isn’t trying to frame her, but she assumes the worst).
It’s a solid romance plot; the art crime subplot is just there for fuel, as part of the premise. He can’t leave until they’ve figured it out since somebody is stalking her. She keeps pointing out that she can protect herself from any stalker, witness the kidnapper she shot in a parking garage.
They fight crime.
jenny 5:20 PM
Throwaways are for texture.
Like he sees that she has a maple leaf tattoo on her butt and later asks her what that’s from, and she says, “I lost my virginity in Canada.” It’s just part of who Anna is, a throwaway line for character
You’ve got the characters down. But the thing that’s going to drive the story is the subplot of the Russian mob.
jenny 5:22 PM
Of course you like the grandfather angle, it’s your kind of plot. ROMANCE, Bob. Grandpa is just there to explain why Anna is lethal when attacked. And why her mother is a few candles short of a cake.
jenny 5:23 PM
No, what’s going to drive the story is that Anna and Nate fall in love in spite of themselves, and having both spent their adult lives trying to live down criminal pasts by living inauthentic lives, destroy each other’s facades and start living as themselves.
Every Romance has something pushing the story, even if its background noise.
You start with two people who are apart and bring them together. For the romance reader, that’s where the juice is. How do these people overcome their differences and find their way to each other. That’s the story arc. If the story ends halfway through, it’s not halfway through, that’s the end.
Anyone But You doesn’t.
jenny 5:26 PM
Look, if the romance is based on the Russian mob story, then when they solve that, their relationship story would also be solved. And it wouldn’t be, solving the crime doesn’t change that they have personal problems. They need to work through the relationship problems to get to commitment, which in their cases mean giving up safe lives.
jenny 5:27 PM
The Russian mob plot is the complication of the main plot. That’s the subplot, the money laundering plot, not the romance plot. It’s there to support the romance plot, not to be the plot. Yes, they happen concurrently. But one has to be the main plot. If you were writing this, it would be the Russians because that’s the concrete, action plot. I’m writing the romance plot.
I just started this Friday, I only have about 15,000 words done. [Note: I’m over 20,000 now.] I’m still writing to see what I say.
No, they really liked the people they hooked up with. They just realize those weren’t real people.
jenny 5:31 PM
He’s a Fed and he’s investigating the place where she works and her and that’s going to bring to light her mob past and endanger her job and her relationships. She and her mother have built a non-mob life, and she wants to keep it that way, more for her mother than for her.
jenny 5:33 PM
Yes. She’s wrong, but she wants it. Did you ever see Moonstruck? Brilliant romance conflict. Loretta wanted a nice safe life with Johnny, but she got what she needed, passion with Ronnie.
Why did her BF dump her?
jenny 5:35 PM
I think the plot arc is her life breaking around her and her trying to adapt and save what she can, but everything that happens just brings out the real Anna, so finally in Act 4, she just goes full crazy and becomes who she’s supposed to be. Because of Nate. And the subplot.
The second part of Act One (5500 words) is Nate finding out that Anna is a suspect and going with his partner to NJ to question her, which is when she finds out who he is.
The rest of Act One (working on that now) is the two of them struggling with consequences and then realizing at the turning point that they’re going to have to work together in spite of being really annoyed with each other and reality.
This is like collaborating again. You wanting things like plot,
Remember how you’d outline and I’d wander off? Good times.
jenny 5:40 PM
Well, he’s figured out by the end of Act One that she can protect herself, but he still has knowledge and skills she needs and she has knowledge and skills he needs, so it makes sense to work together.
jenny 5:42 PM
He sees her shoot a guy at about 12,000 words. I don’t think that convinces him that she can protect herself, just that she’s dangerous, but I’ve got another 20,000 words in that act to do that.
The problem with “He sees that she can protect herself” is that he’s not the protagonist. She is. So the turning point has to be about her, “She sees that . . . .” I think it’s when she realizes that she’s not going to be able to low-profile her way out of the mess and agrees to work with him. They’re still mad at each other and still in conflict, they’re just stuck with each other.
jenny 5:46 PM
The rest of the story is learning to compromise and get over their issues.
That’s part of the romance plot. You can’t really commit to somebody else until you know who you are. You can’t have a relationship that lasts if you’re pretending to be something else.
This is good, Bob. Now I remember why I liked writing with you.
And the mother is a complication.
The thing is, I don’t know most of this because I haven’t written it yet.
jenny 5:49 PM
Jo Beverley used to say that writing a story was like driving through fog, you can only see a little bit ahead, but you keep going and eventually you get to the end. I really can’t outline up front. I mean, even the stuff I’ve told you will probably change.
The second part isn’t as clean, but then I’m getting into the art fraud stuff so I’m just making it up now.
I’m happy with 15,000 words in five days, though.
Was just reading the opening.
jenny 5:54 PM
I love the Moonstruck plot because he destroys her life utterly and sets her free. I want to do a double plot like that. I think it’s that they both tear down each other’s inauthentic lives. That’s where the action has to go. At least, that’s the theory I’m working on.
I want to ruminate. I plan on driving the Blue Ridge Parkway starting tomorrow.
Really excited to see what you’re working on.