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Sunday, April 24, 2005

Spies can Be Damn Stubborn About Their Quests

What is the UberSpy's quest?

ARTHUR: The Lady of the Lake, [angels sing] her arm clad in the purest shimmering samite, held aloft Excalibur from the bosom of the water signifying by Divine Providence that I, Arthur, was to carry Excalibur. [singing stops] That is why I am your king!

Yesterday I listened to a workshop given by the Harlequin bestselling author, Gayle Wilson, who is also an uber-lecturer, by the way. If you get a chance to sit in on one of her classes, go for it.

Two things she brought up from writing books (she read parts from King and Swain), that caught my attention:
1) There is a reason why myths have lived for thousands of years, and

2) the romance uberwriter has to clearly outline the uberspy's journey and since it's a suspense, make sure he has something to lose.

#1 is simple and logical. Our ancestors and we love our myths, and since the essence of those stories have been told over and over again, and still capture our attention, then there must be something in them that works, that appeals to them. Therefore, any story that spins one Myth and gives it a twist (with good storytelling, of course) will make readers happy.

For example, the abducted bride myth, of Hades taking Porsephone into his dark Underworld. This is seen a lot in romances in the form of "forced seduction" and "forced intimacy." We'll ignore the obvious historical pirates and captive noblewomen ;-) and concentrate on Uberspy. There are countless secret agent/FBI agent stories featuring the hero and the heroine in this situation:

a) she's under protective custody and he has to be with her in a motel room 24/7.
b) they are on the run, thus lots of forced intimacy.
c) she stumbles into the secret agent's undercover operation and he has to kidnap her to protect her.
d) he has to seduce her to get something from her.

Can you think of any more? (d) seems to be my favorite theme, by the way ;-).

The uberspy's journey is the most complicated, imho, in a romance. The use of myths as a tool can help trace his journey (following #2 above), but in most myths, the ending is tragic. Give him something to lose...and in a myth, he will lose it. Myths started as a life lesson, the more tragic, the more memorable to the listener and readers.

DENNIS: Listen, strange women lying in ponds distributing swords is no basis for a system of government! Supreme executive power derives from a mandate from the masses. Not from some farcical aquatic ceremony...!

Oedipus' revenge tragedy wouldn't have the same rage and horror if he hadn't slept with his mother and killed his father, knowingly or unknowingly. Even the most celebrated "myth" of temptation, the Apple from the Tree of Knowledge, of Adam and Eve, ends with them banned from the Garden of Eden (let's not go into the Gospels for the happy ending, okay? We're just being writers here). In Arthur and the myth of the individual quest, the romance (we're going to concentrate on the relationships, dudes) suffers in the end because of betrayal and jealousy. Arthur is tricked into sleeping with his evil sister; his beautiful Camelot is encased by winter, reflecting the state of the king. And from Arthur, we get the quest for the Holy Grail.

So how does a uberspy/super secret agent/covert ops dude goes about his mythic journey? Using my books, the outward quest is always the element that provides the danger to the story--be it the stolen laptop in Into Danger, the search for truth/knowledge in
Facing Fear, or the need to reach out and help those in danger in The Protector. The hero must decide that line he isn't going to cross, or in a twist, decides he will cross the line, dammit (and it's up to the writer to see whether he will or not).

ARTHUR: I command you, as King of the Britons, to stand aside!
BLACK KNIGHT: I move for no man.
(swordfight going on; a lot of HIYAH!s by the Black Knight; Arthur chops his arm off )
ARTHUR: Now stand aside, worthy adversary.

The adventure in the middle must have stops that mark and reveal that the hero is closer to the end (or farther, if you want to really frustrate the poor dude). For me, you need a big bang in the middle (and no, it's not the sex part!) to hit either the hero or heroine in the head that "Hey, this time, it's different." When does Porsephone decide that she kinda like the angsty moody Underworld dude? When does Psyche know she loves her Cupid, before or after she peeks at his beauty?

Finally, according to myth, the uberspy must have a sacrifice ahead of him. The myth of Sacrifice: something given to make amends, or to receive a favor, or a form of revenge. So many different interpretations to that one. The writer can play with the variations any way she wants but must move the story toward the quest's end--since it is a romance, there will be a happy ending, so we know the girl's going to be saved, the big bad will get his come-uppance, the horrible destructive thing that was going to destroy the world will be stopped.

BLACK KNIGHT: 'Tis but a scratch.

ARTHUR: A scratch?! Your arm's off!
BLACK KNIGHT: No, it isn't.

ARTHUR: Well, what's that then?
(BLACK KNIGHT glances at his dismembered arm) BLACK KNIGHT: I've had worse.
ARTHUR: You liar! BLACK KNIGHT: Come on, you pansy! (fight; fight; fight; other arm chopped off)

So why would I, the reader, still need to carry on? I know the ending, after all.

There has to be a moment in romance, and esp. in the uberspy's quest (hero or heroine), that makes the reader hold his/her breath and get them to continue the journey to the happy ending. The sacrifice is always a good moment, I think. You have the uberspy standing alone. He has to make a choice--his beloved in the hands of the enemy or the damn bomb in another city? Sacrifice himself or his family/loved ones? Move in darkness forever (okay, vampire stories abound with this theme) or give in to something darker?

ARTHUR: You are indeed brave, Sir Knight! But the fight is mine!
BLACK KNIGHT: Oh! Had enough, eh? ARTHUR: Look, you stupid bastard, you've got no arms left!
BLACK KNIGHT: Yes, I have!
BLACK KNIGHT: It's just a flesh wound! (kick) Chicken! (kick) Chicken!
ARTHUR: I'll have your leg! Right! (swish & chop)
BLACK KNIGHT: Right. I'll do you for that!

ARTHUR: You'll what?
BLACK KNIGHT: Come here!
ARTHUR: What are you going to do, bleed on me?
BLACK KNIGHT: I'm Invincible!
ARTHUR: You're a looney.
BLACK KNIGHT: The Black Knight always triumphs! Have at you! Come on, then. [ARTHUR chops off last leg]
BLACK KNIGHT: OH? All right. We'll call it a draw.

ARTHUR: Come, Pansy.
BLACK KNIGHT: Oh, I see! Running away, eh? You yellow bastards! Come back and take what's coming to you! I'll bite your legs off!

In other words, what would Jack Bauer do? ;-)

***The Arthur and the Black Knight dialogue is, if you haven't guessed yet, from Monty Python and The Holy Grail, a movie that seems to have caught many of my memory cells.

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Mary Stella said...

What a great blog entry, Gennita! I wish I'd been able to attend that workshop. I'm fond of the "D" entry, too.

Just once I wish I'd meet a hot uber-guy who thought he had to seduce me to get info or something from me. *sigh* I must not be living the right adventures. ;-) See you soon.

Gennita Low said...

Ahhhh Mary Stella ;-), you know those hot uber guys are hard to find, hehheh. The workshop was very interesting; I only touched two points and Gayle had dozens! Maybe at RWA sometime???

See you soon too!



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