Tag Archives: Creating Tension

How Matthew McConaughey and Dr. Laura Schlessinger Shaped My Story

In my last post I described how twelve years ago I decided I wanted to write a love story better than the “Wedding Planner”. Relying only on my vague memory of high school and university English classes, I knew I needed a setting, characters, and a story line. Immediately I also knew I wanted the story to have an element of fantasy. Not dragons and magic fantasy, but rather a book that offered an escape from real life, more specifically, the kind of escapism story I would want to read.

A few years before I began writing, my sister-in-law took a job working in the Bahamas at a Club Med resort. She told me about the island of Eleuthera and I fell in love. I had seriously never wanted a tropical vacation.  Want to make me self-conscious? Stick me in a bathing suit in front of people. But through her I learned it was possible to relax on a beach without fighting for the space to spread one’s towel. Warm waters, hot sun, and soft, sandy beaches were appealing when visualized without throngs of people. Who doesn’t think of a deserted beach and not consider the possibility of sex on the beach? I loved the idea of a vacation romance so much that “Sex on a Beach” became my working title.

With a setting and a situation in mind I began furiously scribbling the story of a woman enjoying a vacation romance. My heroine Skylar was my visualization of what I thought was attractive.  My hero was modelled after Texan, Matthew McConaughey, the blond, buff actor, and my not so secret crush. The story was told in the third person voice, which is the use of an objective narrator to the story. This was deliberate because I hoped the choice would prevent readers from confusing me with the main character.

After prolonged trip planning and shopping, eventually my main character reached Eleuthera, met the hero and the two immediately began having sex. By this point I had written about fifteen chapters of a rough draft and I was pretty pleased with my story. Not pleased enough to let anyone read it, but I felt I had a workable story. It was at this point in my writing I took a two year break from writing to have my youngest daughter.

After a difficult pregnancy, and once my baby was over a year old, I felt the urge to write again. I began with a decision that would hugely impact my writing for the better. I subscribed to Writer’s Digest. The weekly magazine gave superb advice and taught me how to look at my manuscript with a critical eye. I realized my fifteen chapters were a very rough start. My dialogue sucked, my characters were flat, and worst of all there was no tension. I was mortified. With no driving force in the story, the reader had no reason to turn the pages. I considered scrapping the idea and starting over from scratch. But I pressed on. I look back at how awful a writer I was, and how bad I knew I was, but I felt strongly I could improve, but not unless I could develop the conflict in my story.

I was stymied for months until listening to the Dr. Laura Schlessinger radio program gave me my answer. I live a substantial distance from banking and grocery shopping. Radio is an important entertainer during long drives to town, and before satellite radio, I had a choice between crackly, classic rock and country stations, the same old CDs I never remembered to change out, or I had talk radio.

More than once I found myself listening to Dr. Laura berating the foolish. I felt particularly sorry for anyone stupid enough to call her with relationship issues stemming from their child not getting along with a new girl/boyfriend, spouse, or live-in-lover. Dr. Laura strongly believes single parents, widowed or divorced, or never married, should not date at all while their children are still dependants and she will dole out a tongue lashing to anyone admitting such behavior.

Every time this situation came up on her program I felt my own inner conflict. I had been a school counsellor. I saw the problems inherent in blended and step parent families, and how in many situations the children in these families were hurt by adults. Parents remarried and divorced and dated with sometimes, little consideration for how their decisions impacted their children. I could see sense in her diatribes. Conversely, the compassionate, human side of me, along with my romantic sensibilities railed at the idea that someone should have to spend a decade, or more alone, without love, connection, and sexual intimacy.

My dilemma was born.

My heroine was more than a woman enjoying a vacation romance. She became a single parent firmly convinced not to date until her child was grown. While on her fantasy vacation she meets a man who shakes her convictions. My hero was more than just some guy out to get laid; he had to be the settling down type, the kind not easily left behind. The characters grew in complexity even as they came into greater focus.

Unfortunately my inner debate was so strong I was torn between what was authentic and accurate for the characters and the happy ending I had been writing towards.  I love happy endings but as I wrote “Seascape”, a happy ending seemed completely improbable.

For those of you who have not yet met Skylar and Mack, my main characters, I hope you enjoy the story enough to read to the end and find out for yourself if Skylar chooses her daughter Rachel over her lover, Mack.

For those of you who are interested, in my next article, I will discuss whether it really does take twelve years to write a novel.