Please welcome guest author Elizabeth Harmon to the Cafe.
“Get your facts first, and then you can distort them as much as you please.”
Mark Twain’s great advice still rings true. As a contemporary romance author I’m constantly holding real life up to a funhouse mirror and writing what I see.
Historical authors often set stories in the midst of wars, reigns and other historical events. “Ripped from the Headlines” is a popular trope for thrillers and romantic suspense. And who hasn’t read a glitzy Hollywood novel and not tried to guess the real people behind the characters? Other authors use their own life—or the life of someone close to them, for inspiration.
As a sports romance author who writes about figure skating, I strive to create realistic characters and settings, while keeping my stories firmly grounded in the fictional world. Along the way, I’ve discovered a few favorite tips for spinning fact into fiction.
I like to begin a new project by reading fiction and non-fiction that’s relevant to my story. This gives me some nice details to include in the first draft, but doesn’t slow down the real work of putting words on paper. Once the first draft is done, I know what knowledge gaps I need to fill in—usually by talking to an expert.
Play “What If?”
A working knowledge of your topic gives you freedom to play with it.
After discovering that reality shows work from a story arc and that contestants function as characters to drive it, I brainstormed by asking “what if”…an awkward Plain Jane became a contestant on a sexy dating show? How did she get there? What would happen to her? And what if the person who helps her survive the shark tank is the show’s villain? What if they fell in love? Turning those questions around in my head helped me create the plot for my second Red Hot Russians book, “Turning It On.”
Does a real story or person inspire you? How could it not? Life provides constant fodder for fiction. But going full-tilt “ripped from the headlines” makes me feel like I’m telling a story that isn’t mine to tell. Instead, I try to find the elements which resonate most and use them to create something new.
Reading about the tragic death of a skater I’d admired was partial inspiration for Getting It Back’s hero Misha, a handsome, charming ex-champion, who is down on his luck at the beginning of the book. But instead of continuing down a sad path, Misha overcomes his post-competition struggles to find a happy ending. In digging deeper, I realized that to heal, Misha first has to forgive, which turned out to be the foundation for the story.
Think Like A Storyteller
Real life is messy. It’s complicated. It goes off on weird tangents. None of this makes for compelling fiction. As a reporter, I had to explain events as they unfolded. But as an author, it’s more important to construct a plot that builds logically. Real people often behave unpredictably, but characters must have clear goals, motivations and conflicts. In real-life, Misha’s return to competitive ice would have had numerous complications and taken much longer. But to avoid a drawn out 200,000-word epic, I had to pinpoint one problem—Misha’s inability to perform quadruple jumps— and anchor the external conflict around it.
Beware of Copyrights
My editor alerted me to the fact that Winter Olympics is copyrighted—thus my skaters compete in the Winter Games. If you’re writing football, your quarterback hero must set his sights on the Big Game, not the Super Bowl. More rules govern use of song lyrics, quotes from books, movies or TV and even the names of places. When I set a tense scene between Misha, and Amy, the heroine, in a real Moscow restaurant, I had to invent an authentic sounding fake name that captured the real place’s homey vibe. Thus, “At Alina’s” was born.
So take your facts and distort at will! Hold them up to the funhouse mirror, and see what there’s. That’s the fun of being a writer.
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Getting It Back
$3.99 U.S. / $3.99 CAN.
Red Hot Russians
An unexpected phone call from the man who broke her heart offers Amy Shepherd an opportunity to return to the work she loves, training elite figure skaters. Except it’s just one figure skater: Him. Can she finally forgive and forget?
Figure skater Mikhail “Misha” Zaikov once had it all: medals, money and the adoration of millions. But a devastating injury put an end to his career and his romance, leaving him with nothing but regret over what could have been. His last chance to re-join the world’s top skaters is now. And there’s only one person who can help him: Her.
On Russia’s unyielding ice, Misha must reclaim what he’s lost while facing off against a talented young rival and risking further injury. But Amy soon discovers Misha’s much bigger challenges lurk off the ice. And she’s determined to keep Misha whole and healthy, even if doing so ends his shot at the gold.
Don’t miss any of Elizabeth Harmon’s Red Hot Russians. Pairing Off and Turning it On are available now!