I just love novellas, and a lot of readers do too. They’re often a quick read, and have lovely special occasion themes like Christmas and Mother’s Day. I’ve done several Christmas stories, but this was my first Mother’s Day novella. When I was asked to do it, I immediately agreed, of course, and didn’t think until later: “Hmm. A story of a mother for an inspirational romance.” That’s where the plotting and planning got a little tricky. There are only so many acceptable ways to give a single woman a baby.
My heroine was first to develop in my mind, and she became a teacher with a student who had no family. So the child isn’t a baby at all, but a child. Olivia Rose sees herself in this girl. Olivia was raised in the academy, with no one who ever needed or wanted her, and when the school closes after the Civil War, Emily needs her. I create character grids to plot my story, and on the grid I list for each character: an inciting incident (This is the moment of change that kicks off the story) their motivation, which is the reasoning behind their actions, long range and short range goals, a character flaw, conflict, a black moment, their growth/realization and the theme which connects the characters.
At the same time I do a prep sheet on each character, and on this sheet I list who they are, including personality and family and at least ten adjectives that describe them. I also include their strong trait and their greatest fear. After I’ve brainstormed those sheets, I can write a synopsis and the story comes into focus. Many times I don’t see the whole picture until I write the synopsis and am forced to make it all logical.
Other times I never see the whole story picture until I’m halfway through the book. But my notes are the skeleton for my story and I refer back to them constantly to remind myself who these people are and what they want and how they will react to situations and to the other person.
Olivia Rose is naive, private, intuitive, sincere, agreeable, forgiving, gracious, soft-spoken, idealistic, but deceptively delicate. She has strength of character and a hopeful determination that drive her to find a family and a home for the little girl she is protecting. Jules Parrish has a plan in motion, but when Olivia shows up with his niece, he doesn’t stand a chance of refusing her.
In my online class this month, I’m teaching on drawing emotion from the reader, and I had plenty of opportunity with this set up to do just that. I always teach never to be afraid to dig deep into your character’s head and heart and pull up those things that are difficult. We can’t grab our readers if we stay on the surface. As writers, we need to feel right along with our characters. I like to look past the initial reaction and emotion and get to the heart of things. People don’t always remember what you said or did, but they remember how you made them feel. Readers don’t always remember all the details of a book, but they remember how it made them feel. I’m hoping Montana Rose is one of those feel-good stories.
Cheryl St.John is the author of over thirty Harlequin and Silhouette books. Her first book, RAIN SHADOW was nominated for RWA’s RITA for Best First Book, by Romantic Times for Best Western Historical, and by Affaire de Coeur readers as Best American Historical Romance. Since then she's received several RITA nominations and three Romantic Times Achievement Awards. In describing her stories of second chances and redemption, readers and reviewers use words like, “emotional punch, hometown feel, core values, believable characters and real life situations.
Petticoats & Pistols