No More Mrs. Nice Guy

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by Keli Gwyn

Are you too nice to your characters? I was.

I used to ache for the characters in the stories I read as the authors forced them to endure one trial after another. When I began writing, I couldn’t do that to my beloved heroes and heroines. I made things easy on them-too easy.

I wised up when I had my first pitch session back in 2008. I’d double-finaled in the Romance Writers of America® Golden Heart® contest, which gave me first dibs on agent and editor appointments. I rejoiced when I got one with renowned editor Dave Long from Bethany House.

I sat at Dave’s table in the pitch room at RWA® Nationals, handed him my one sheet, and tried to not to tremble while he read the pitch. Less than two minutes had gone by when he looked up. I knew before he said a word that he didn’t like my story.

Dave’s fast pass created a dilemma. I didn’t have anything else to pitch, but I didn’t want to experience the humiliation of walking out of the room with five minutes of my session yet to go.

Some advice I’d heard from seasoned writers came back to me: “If they don’t like what you pitched, ask them what they’re looking for.” I did just that, and the advice I received that day has made a world of difference.

Dave told me Bethany House looks for stories with high stakes-and that life or death isn’t too much.

I made it through the rest of the session and left with my mind whirling. Did Dave mean that I needed to be mean to my characters?

Um, yeah!

I implemented his suggestion, opening my story with my heroine at the business end of a revolver. That beginning led to contest finals, subsequent wins, an offer of representation, and my first sale.

I was sold on the idea of putting my characters in peril. It wasn’t easy, but mild-manner me bumped somebody off in my debut novel.

When that story sold, I got to thinking. If killing one character made such a difference, doing away with more could be even better.

In the story I just sent my agent, I did away with more characters. Yup. Five of them bit the dust five different ways. And get this. I don’t even write romantic suspense. I write sweet historical romances. Well, make that sweet historicals with some spice. 🙂

I’m grateful to Dave Long for teaching me that syrupy sweet stories with hopelessly happy characters don’t sell. Conflict and tension do. That’s why my new motto is “No More Mrs. Nice Guy.”

Were you ever guilty of being too nice to your characters?

What are some of your favorite ways for ramping up the tension in your stories?

Award-winning novelist Keli Gwyn writes inspirational historical romance. She’s a member of ACFW and Romance Writers of America® and is represented by Rachelle Gardner. Keli’s debut novel, A Bride Opens Shop in El Dorado, California, will be released by Barbour Publishing in July 2012.

Comments 0

  1. Hello, Keli! So happy when I saw your name on today’s blog post. 🙂

    Yes – after completing my first draft of my WIP I sat looking at the keyboard thinking – my characters are way too nice and they don’t have nearly enough problems – even to me they were boring! As I am re-writing, I am ramping up the problems and trouble and trying to find more and more ways to add tension and conflict. I like my characters a whole lot better now!

  2. LOL, Keli, have you been talking to Mary Connealy, by chance??? She swears that when she gets stuck in a story, she just shoots someone. 🙂

    Great advice — thanks for passing it on. I don’t kill many people in my books, at least not physically, but I do try my darnedest to put ’em through the mill emotionally. 🙂


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