January is the month of goal-setting. Since I was writing this first blog in Romance Unlaced, version II, in January, my thoughts naturally turned to the goals characters have in romances.
Every main character in a romance has a goal of some kind. The goal might be personal, or involve family or future. Sometimes, however, the goals are more involved with the world beyond, or dangerous, or even reckless. When there is a big goal, the stakes increase.
In Jane Feather’s new book, Seduce Me With Sapphires, London Jewels Trilogy (forthcoming February 2020), her heroine is a lady who badly wants a life that is denied her. The Honorable Fenella Grantley has a long-held and socially prohibited ambition, to act on the London stage. Edward Tremayne, the illegitimate son of an earl, has an equally passionate ambition, to write and produce a play for the London stage. But the two have conflicting personalities and social situations which make their natural collaboration increasingly fraught.
I asked Jane if including such a goal made writing a book harder or easier. “I would say easier, on the whole,” she said. “Having a strong hook for a narrative helps keep the ideas and connections flowing.” That strong hook creates challenges in balancing the romance and plot, however. “I tend to lose myself in the intricacies and drama of the plot and let the romance catch up as it can. This tends to lead to multi revisions of the first draft as I get the balance back where it should be.”
Joanna Shupe’s new book The Prince of Broadway, the Uptown Girls Series, also has a high-born woman pursuing an unexpected career. Knickerbocker heiress Florence Greene wades into the dark and gritty underworld of the Gilded Age New York City to find Clayton Madden, owner of the city’s poshest casino. Florence is determined to open a casino just for women, if she can convince the rough and enigmatic Madden to help her.
Joanna also said that her choice of this kind of goal for the heroine helped in writing the story. “It allowed me to keep the hero and heroine on the page together because each wants something from the other. Their motivation is directly tied to the romance.”
Goals like this create inner conflicts too, due to big risks, that enhance the reader’s connection to a character. “Florence will be ruined if her association with gambling/casinos becomes public, so she hides it from her parents,” Joanna explained. “Not only were upper class women discouraged from working, this was a scandalous profession. She has to come to terms with what this means for her—as well as her family.”
Regina Scott has a heroine venturing into a man’s world in her book A Distance Too Grand, American Wonders Collection. In it Meg Pero is determined to take over her late father’s photography business—even serving on a survey of the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, but the leader of the expedition is the man she once refused to marry. As dangers arise, they must work together to stay alive, and, just maybe, rekindle a love that neither completely left behind.
Regina thinks her heroine’s goal added layers to the story, both in characterization and setting. “Readers have told me they found the details about how photographs were taken then fascinating. Also, she’s a woman in a man’s world, proving herself. Her struggles help bring the period to life, and I hope readers cheer for her as she accomplishes things many women were denied.”
Deb Marlowe’s The Lady’s Lover, The Half Moon House series, uses a goal with very high stakes. In Regency England, an ex-courtesan discovers that the man who ruined her and countless others has also been working to discredit the Prince Regent. Forced to work with a royal-appointed associate, she’s tasked with finally defeating the man who has destroyed so many lives—and must come to terms with her feelings for her partner, as well.
She believes the goal was critical to the romance. “I think if the Big Goal is one that is intimate and integral to at least one character, then it also becomes a vehicle for the unfolding of the romance. They become so entwined, you can’t have one without the other. In this case, the big goal actually provides what might be the only opportunity for this romance. Hestia has long avoided Stoneacre—for good reasons that he is unaware of. Being required to work together gives them the opportunity to explore their mutual attraction and provides a safe space and time for them to get to know each other in a deep and truly meaningful way.”
Jennifer Ashley’s The Devilish Lord Will, Mackenzies / McBrides series, uses a goal that involves doing good for others, at potentially high cost to oneself. Josette Oswald needs to revive her spycraft to locate a hidden stash of gold to help Highland women whose husbands have been imprisoned for their role in the 1745 Uprising. She turns for help to Will Mackenzie, the most devious and clever man she knows, but though she’ll trust Will with her secrets, she can’t trust him with her heart.
“It’s a dangerous goal, because the hero has been marked as a traitor to Great Britain, and also listed as dead. So the big goal might reveal his existence to his enemies again,” she explained.
She prefers writing stories like this. “I enjoy plot-driven books, both reading and writing them, so I find it’s easier to write a big goal for the hero and heroine. Whenever I come up with characters for a romance, my first thought is, Now they need something to do. A big goal gives them plenty to do, and it also helps complicate their internal conflict—while they try to resolve their personal issues, the big goal keeps crashing into them. They have to learn to deal with their goal and their romance at the same time.”
Revenge is always a big goal, and using it in a romance requires a deft hand by an author. Amy Jarecki’s The Highland Rogue ( forthcoming March 24, 2020) shows the stakes involved. The two main characters brave tempests, pirates, betrayal, and ruin. But soon the hero, Kennan, must decide what matters most: his thirst for vengeance or the woman who has won his heart.
A revenge plot can be compelling, and give a different insight into a character. “Tracking down the most notorious pirate on the high seas is not only reckless and incredibly dangerous, it is very near insane,” Amy said. “But after fighting for his life, losing his ship, being thrown overboard, and washing up on the shore of a tiny island half dead, Kennan Cameron has nothing to lose and everything to prove.”
Like many big goals, revenge can threaten to dominate a story if the author isn’t alert to its power. Amy explained how she handles that. “I balance the big goal with romance by alternating scenes while the hero and heroine get to know each other and by putting the two characters in situations where they have no alternatives but to work together toward achieving the goal…while becoming increasingly aware of their feelings for one another.” As romance readers, we can guess what choice Kennan makes, but that does not mean it was an easy choice, even if he fell in love.
Do you enjoy romances with big goals? Share your favorites here with other readers!
As an Amazon Associate, we earn from qualifying purchases.
Heiress for Hire by Madeline Hunter, out April 28, 2020
Minerva Hepplewhite has learned the hard way how to take care of herself. When an intruder breaks into her home, she doesn’t swoon or simper. Instead she wallops the rogue over the head and ties him up—only to realize he is Chase Radnor, a gentleman and grandson of a lord, and a man who makes it his business to investigate suspicious matters. Now he’s insisting that Minerva has inherited a fortune from his uncle, a wealthy duke. Only one thing could surprise her more: her sudden attraction to this exasperating man . . .
Chase can’t decide whether Minerva is a wronged woman or a femme fatale. Either way, he’s intrigued. Maddeningly, with her unexpected inheritance, she has set up a discreet detective business to rival Chase’s own. She may be the perfect person to help him uncover the truth about his uncle’s demise. But as proximity gives way to mutual seduction, Chase realizes he craves a much deeper alliance . . .