I spent quite a bit of yesterday attending a creative writing workshop at the very lovely Painswick Hotel given by the equally lovely Katie Fforde . The event was being filmed for a three part TV series on romantic fiction presented by Daisy Goodwin, which has been commissioned by the BBC and will be broadcast, if everything goes according to plan, in October.
The three programmes will apparently cover "heroes", "heroines" and "happy ever after" or something like that. Katie structured the day along similar lines, so we started with a discussion of the great romantic heroes - not just Heathcliff, Darcy and Rochester, but also more modern examples like Jilly Cooper's Rupert Campbell-Black. Katie argued that romantic fiction allows the reader to have a safe "virtual affair" with the hero, so we had to make the hero someone that readers would fall for in a big way.
Then we had to do some work. We had ten minutes to write a passage that describes a fictional hero - giving some idea of his appearance, what he does, what sort of car he drives, what he's like - but does so allusively, rather than through straightforward physical description. Show, not tell.
After we had read out our passages (and taken a coffee break, and some shorter breaks to change tapes in the camera, reshot the odd fluffed comment from Katie, and worked through all the other joys of being filmed) we moved on to heroines. We nominated various favourites, and discussed the importance of their being realistic. Readers want to identify with the heroine, so she has to be plausible - achievably beautiful rather than impossibly gorgeous, not too stupid, and so on.
More writing for us. This time we had to describe our heroines, but we had to do it from within their own point of view, with no recourse to looking in mirrors or other popular clichés. Since this is something that I have been wrestling with in Lord Alexander's Cipher; or, the Bridekirk Behemoth, I was glad of the chance to have a go at it in a different context.
Then we discussed the whole question of what constitutes romantic fiction, and romances. Not surprisingly we dsidn't reach a definitive view, but the centrality of a relationship between two people that includes a distinctly sexual element (even if not actually consummated), and the importance of an emotional appeal to the reader were both part of the answer.
Another exercise now; a description of the second time that our hero and heroine from the earlier exercises meet each other. The first meeting is usually a chance encounter. The second shows how the relationship is developing. We had ten minutes to get some of that down on our writing pads.
And at that point, with more tape changing and reshooting being done, I had to leave, to get down to Reading for a book launch, about which more tomorrow.