Friday, May 12, 2017

Best of the Archives: How to Take a Hero From Here to There

Good morning, Seekerville, and happy Friday! This post first appeared in 2011 and is closed to comments today so we can all get on with the business of writing great stories... And I'm just going to mention that "Home on the Range" joined "Back in the Saddle" on the Evangelical Christian Publishers Bestseller list this past week... and how cool is that??? And all three books of the "Double S" Western series are on store bookshelves nationwide right now, at family-friendly prices! 

Back to 2011:

Ruthy here, ready to talk character arcs because a friend pointed out that we needed to. I ALWAYS listen to my friends. Kind of. And when I don't and they're right and I'm wrong I NEVER get really mad and stomp my feet and throw a Junie B. Jones type hissy fit. Usually.

Okay, back to the nuts and bolts.  I write emotion-driven books. I love emotion-driven books. But to inspire that emotion in your characters for the readers' full enjoyment, you've got to have them travel a path that illustrates a complete emotional arc from evil to good, sad to happy, faithless to faith-filled, desperate to peaceful. Simply put, they gotta walk the walk and talk the talk.

Imagine a rainbow. We're at the north end. We need to go south to get the pot of gold, but we have to climb the colors first, then slide down to the end. That's what I'm talkin' about today. Making the climb and slidin' into home....(Come on, it's May, you KNEW I'd get baseball in somewhere, right???)
I digress. Of course I do. It's me, after all, and it's time for a candy break. Hold out your hands, I'm throwing small packs of M&M's to the crowd...

In Carla Capshaw's THE GLADIATOR, we have Caros, the quintessential alpha, tough, scarred, angry, self-made rock of a man who starts the book arrogant, aloof, hidden-in-plain-sight because no one knows his inner self. Throughout the course of a 70,000 word book, Carla takes this man from cold, hard beginnings to an ultimate sacrificial ending where he's willing to give up everything, including his life, for his woman and his God.  Carla turns the lion into the pussycat, a trait that holds true in great historical writers like Julie Garwood, Madelyn Hunter and Sara Donati. For some reason we tend to see historical men as bigger, brawnier, bolder than many of their modern-day counterparts. I blame it on technology. Would this guy be strolling down the street, nose down in an i-Phone?


In Sara Donati's "Into the Wilderness" we meet Nathaniel Bonner, a man firmly caught between two worlds, son of a Scots couple raised among Native Americans, a born woodsman and frontiersman, savvy, strong, protective. What could possibly be wrong with him, you ask? How is he flawed?

A much younger Nathaniel married the wrong woman, a precocious Indian girl whose weaknesses became her undoing, but all Nathaniel sees is that his lack became her downfall. She died, leaving him a beautiful daughter. Through his love for his daughter Hannah we glimpse the soft heart within the hard man, and when he's tempted by Elizabeth Middleton's "modern" and "independent" ways, Nathaniel's warmth and humor become increasingly evident. Sensing a rare strength in Elizabeth, he's drawn to her but realizes that a woman fresh out from England might not make it in the New World. The weakness of her father and brother add to the dominance of the hero, making his air of decision stand out. Understated sensuality becomes downright sexy with a look here, a glance there, an overlong pause.

Understating emotion is not easy. Often it's the clever use of words and timing that trigger the emotion within the reader.

Now let's jump to contemporary.

Winter's End:  Hot hero:  A farmer. Rancher. A hard, crusty North Country guy, born of the land, burned by life. His bi-polar mother abandoned the family fourteen years ago, leaving them with a six month old baby. His shaky childhood faith is destroyed, his father's dying, he's working 24/7 and he can't find time to paint his house and barns while running a farm and a feed store and taking his fourteen-year-old sister everywhere a fourteen-year-old needs to go. Marc DeHollander has a lot on his plate, but is that an excuse for being a jerk?  Sure it is, because we're starting at the NORTH end of the rainbow... Let's follow our totally hot hero south, over the rainbow's curve.

Chapter One:
Marc glared at the outside thermometer through semi-frosted glass. "Six degrees. Wind chill's at least twenty below. Who wears foolish shoes like that in the dead of winter?"

And a few pages later:

"Do those choices include a nurse who isn't afraid to get dirty and knows enough to wear sensible shoes midwinter?" Condescending, Marc swept her pert, polished nails and well-fitted blazer a look of disdain, his expression intimating she didn't have what it took to get the job done.

So he's being a jerk right now, first class, and hospice nurse Kayla Doherty has no idea why but it is a hospice situation so she's dealt with rough emotions before. And yet...

His anger seems biased toward her, personally.  (You want the reader wondering why... what is it about the nurse that tweaks him?) He seems to be targeting who or what she was. And that's the first clue we have that there are serious woman issues in Marc's past, the fact that he's tweaked by her nails, her shoes, her sassy style.

Chapter Six:
"How's your dad doing?" Craig Macklin watched as Marc latched the stall door enclosing the spry but very pregnant horse.

"Like you'd expect. Some good days. Some bad."

"Have they given you a time frame?"

Marc stared. "For?"

"His prognosis."

Marc swore under his breath. Why was it that everyone else accepted Pete's fate? Were they last night's feature on the late-breaking news?

Ah, another hint of what's going on here. Marc doesn't want to accept the inevitability of his father's death. He wants to turn over every stone to find a cure and Pete's acceptance of hospice sends a message Marc does not want to hear: "Tag, you're it. I'm dying, take over everything, and oh, by the way, good luck." People's matter-of-fact acceptance of Pete's illness and prognosis scorch Marc and time is short on multiple levels. Displaced anger is a GREAT way to begin the upward climb of the rainbow's arc...

Chapter Eight: (Marc is dropping Kayla off at her apartment when her car won't start on a brutally cold night)

"This one, on the left."

"With no lights"

She puffed out a breath of air. "The outside lights haven't worked since before Christmas. I replaced the bulbs, but nothing happened."

How safe was that? he wondered. He climbed down from the truck. Kayla looked surprised to see him as he rounded the front bumper. "I'm fine, really. You don't have to-"

"It's dark as pitch. I'm walking you in."

Okay, now we're beginning to see him soften, even though he doesn't want to. He really doesn't want to. Kayla has "I'm LEAVING THE NORTH COUNTRY" stamped on her forehead for all to see. She's moving on, done with winters that never end and heaters that refuse to work. No way can Marc risk his heart to someone bent on leaving when he's tied to the land. The farm. His sister. His home.

Chapter Eleven: Kayla offered to stay with Pete while Marc takes his sister to the big St. Lawrence vs. Cornell hockey game.  She's tired and frazzled by things she's discovered while they were gone, but it's nothing she can share, nothing she can talk about, so she's a little sharp. Snippy.

"What's that supposed to mean?"

Kayla shook her head, looking down. "Just agreeing with you, Marc."

"In that tone?"

"Yup." She straightened and retrieved her jacket.

"More like capitulating." Marc adjusted the left shoulder, then angled the sleeve to ease her arm into it. He kept his hands there, fingers clutched in the navy wool, looking down at her, those gray-green eyes thoughtful.


"Perhaps." He tugged her closer. "Let's see what you make of this, Kayla."

His mouth covered hers with gentle pressure, the kiss warm and alive. He smelled of crisp air and wood stove, hay and Old Spice. It was the most delicious combination of scents she'd ever known. Masculine and rugged. She leaned into the kiss, hands flat against his chest, reveling in the feel of him, hard muscled balancing her softer curves. She felt safe. Warm. Cherished. Three feelings she'd never experienced simultaneously. Talk about a head rush.

He's smitten. We see that. And he can't resist the urge to reach out to her, to touch her. Hold her. Kiss her. But he's solved nothing, he's still angry at everyone under the sun and his life has tanked. The glimmer of hope is there, but it's nothing more than a glimmer because he can't change the inevitable. She's leaving, his father's dying, he's staying, they stand on different sides of the faith issue, and he's not about to risk his sister's emotional stability at this point in her life.

Chapter Fourteen:  On a nursing visit not long after the first kiss. And the second. Probably the third...
I like kissing. A lot

"I've got supper in the slow cooker."

Kayla didn't dare turn. "Thanks, but I'll leave you guys to family stuff tonight. I'm going to catch up on some sleep."

"At five o'clock?"

Marc moved alongside her. From Pete's quick, tired smile, she was pretty sure he'd just given his father a wink. "You won't mind if I eat and run?"

"No." The word was close enough to be whispered, but it wasn't. As Marc clasped his father's other hand, his shoulder pressed Kayla's. "You set the time frame, Kayla."

Now we see that he's opening himself up, chancing heartbreak. Chancing hope. But he doesn't know what Kayla knows, he doesn't see the damaged woman beneath the thin facade, and when he does, when he comes face to face with her emotional scars, he knows he can't go there. He's not man enough to go there. No way. No how.

Chapter Twenty:

Marc wanted to help Kayla. Hold her. Soothe her the rest of her days.

Mission: Impossible.

He recognized the fact and still he cradled her, letting his arms provide sanctuary.

More like a temporary haven, right, Bucko?

There is little strength without faith. We see that Kayla's strong because she chose to be, refusing to let life drag her down. But by now we understand that her strength is Marc's nemesis because it came at a dear price: her emotional and mental health. And he can't deal with women who have issues. Too many reminders of mom and his parents' combined bad choices. But then withouth those choices, he wouldn't exist. Jess wouldn't exist.


Chapter Twenty-one:

He approached the steps, wrestling misgiving. It could be for nothing. He knew that. He understood she hadn't left a scarred-up house and a scrabbled yard. She'd left him, because he wasn't what she needed.

Could he be?

He didn't have that answer yet, but he knew one thing. A farm wasn't built in a day. It took years of painstaking planning, stage-by-stage growth, a focus on tomorrow. Why hadn't he realized that life and love required that much time and respect?

Step by step. If nothing else, hed have a farmhouse that looked good and a yard that said "welcome". And maybe, just maybe another chance at the gold ring he'd missed so completely that winter.

Ruthy's debut novel... A beautiful story of new hope and second chances... the book that launched her career and was a complete sell-out in less than 4 weeks... What a fun way to enter this crazy business!!!
I don't read writing books. Ever. But I love to teach writing, emoting, feeling, showing the characters' flaws through actions and inactions. I don't teach the nuts and bolts... I teach storytelling, and that can be a whole other kettle of fish.

An "inaction" is called for when an action offers too much closure too early in the book. I'm a mom, moms solve problems. It's intrinsic and inherent. But if you do that too soon (guilty hand raised...) you lose your conflict and your emotional arc. Oops.

An inaction is when a character walks off stage. Closes the door. Thinks about the kiss and turns away. Every time you solve a problem with an action, you're closing one door but opening another. That first kiss, so enjoyable but immediately regretted.

And then it's repeated because it was THAT NICE!  It's worthy of a repeat, but in the meantime, those characters are fighting that walk up the north face of that rainbow. See, they don't KNOW it's a rainbow. They only see a hill. A big hill. Steep. And it might rain. Or get dark. Or snow. And the wind might blow. And they don't have proper footwear. And no gloves. No food. How on earth can anyone expect them to climb this huge hill with no proper boots, I ask you?

Step by step. Some call this forward thrust, but I don't see it that way. Thrust is brute force. I like the emotional nudges and smackdowns that edge a person forward even as they cling to the handrail of the sinking ship, afraid of the drop to the lifeboat below. The ship FEELS safe.

But it's not.

And yet they cling, so we tempt them off the rail step by step, like talking down a jumper. Easing someone over a cliff. Go for the subtle, less obvious forces. The Bible is a HUGE help to you here. I cannot express that enough. With all the angst and beauty contained therein, you can find a verse to tease, torment or tame the soul to help your character's plight. Again, it does not need to be obvious, spelled out, verse and chapter noted. Fragments, bits, pieces, the spirit of the words can run through your scenes with precious little fanfare yet inspire great effect.

When you build from the ground up, Biblical verses should gently flow with the travel, the pace, the tone. They should aid your arc but not overpower it. When they do, the character becomes overshadowed rather than empowered. We want empowerment. Strength. Passion. Fierce loyalty. Sometimes the simplest words say the most.

Which I am not exampling at this moment, thanks so much for noticing!  ;)

Point of reference: Rainbows NEVER have sagging middles.

Coffee's on. Flavored creamers. Breakfast by Panera Bread because they're SO good.  And even though comments are closed, we can always chat on facebook... because you know I love to talk!



Ruthy's highly regarded Westerns are available across the country right now, in Walmarts and Krogers and Winn Dixies and just about anywhere mass market paperbacks are sold... and this one...


Is an amazing story of coming full circle, sweet romance and family healing.

Trey's story. 


How wonderful to have all three books available now, and if you can't find them in the stores (they are selling quickly, not a bad problem to have!!!!) feel free to grab them on Amazon or Barnes & or Christian 

Multi-published, bestselling inspirational author Ruthy Logan Herne loves God, her family, her country, coffee, chocolate and dogs.... and she's got a total soft spot for babies and puppies! And possibly Dwarf Nigerian Goats. Because they're so stinkin' cute! Friend Ruthy on facebook, visit her website or her blog to catch up with life on the farm... and what's new in Ruthy's world!