Character Writing Tips With Nicola Caws

This weekend, we’ve got a gem of a tip from Harlequin Historical Editorial Assistant Nic Caws!

And for more tips on how to keep those secondary characters in the background, check out our recent Advice From the Archives post: “Secondary Characters: Get Outta Here!”

Happy Writing!
The Sold Team x


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Interview with… Jennifer Hayward

Jennifer Hayward first sold to Harlequin in 2012, after winning So You Think You Can Write 2012. Her Harlequin Presents debut was The Divorce Party and since then, she has written five books. What she loves most about writing for Harlequin is she gets to get up every morning, sit down at her computer with a cup of coffee and write the stories she’s always loved to read. Curling up with a sexy, combustible alpha male and the woman who dares to tame him has always been her favourite way to spend her downtime. To be able to bring the world the stories she’s always wanted to pick up off the shelf? Priceless :-)

Follow Jennifer on Twitter, Facebook and her blog!

1.What book first got you hooked on Harlequin?0415-9780373133291-bigw
I would have to say Janet Dailey’s Americana series. There is a book called Summer Mahogany set in Maine that will forever own a piece of my heart. It’s a marriage reunited story and there’s something about Rhyder and Gina and the relationship they forge during that long, hot summer that has never left me even though that book was published in 1978.

2. How did you celebrate selling your first manuscript?
It was the night I won So You Think You Can Write. The press release was going out that afternoon and it was all so surreal. I texted my girlfriend, bursting with the news I couldn’t tell the world, and told her I’d won, but she couldn’t say anything about it yet. She planned a last minute celebration at her place, for which almost all of my girlfriends broke plans/left work/left significant others to attend and it was perfect! My closest friends who’d supported me every step of that rollercoaster ride and ten bottle of champagne – I think we drank one each ;)

3. Which of the many books you’ve written has stayed with you the most and why?
Ooh this is a hard one. I always tell my editor I have love for each of my books in different ways because they are all so different. I think The Magnate’s Manifesto will always be special for me because I took a lot of risks with this book, I loved the lead characters so much for who they are and how they supported each other in a true partnership and I also adore my villain in this book – he is utterly unredeemable, horrible – exactly the type of Hollywood archetype I wanted him to be J I had a reader tweeting me as she read the book – hoping he wasn’t going to be as bad as he was – it was such a fun thing to experience that with her real-time. I’m so proud this book has been chosen as one of Romantic Times Magazine’s Reviewer’s Choice Presents of the year for 2014.

4.What’s top of your TBR pile?
Sarah Water’s The Paying Guests which seems to be on so many picks of 2014 lists and is my book club pick for February.

5. What book do you wish you’d written and why?
Gone with the Wind By Margaret Mitchell. It’s such an epic love story featuring two incredibly strong, memorable characters and a historical background I find fascinating and dramatic.

6. What’s harder – first or last lines?
Ooh these are both tough. I’m so focused on making that initial and final impression on the reader. I would have to say first though, because it’s that point where you’re jumping into a book and you want that perfect line to catch the reader’s attention but you’re also deciding where to start which is always tricky for a writer. There are a million ways to start a book and choosing the right one is a challenge. Last lines I love because it’s my chance to wrap a book up with that statement that applies only to those two particular characters and their love affair.

7. How do you choose your characters names?
I think first of attributes the name must have – eg: if my character’s Italian, it needs to be an Italian name. If my heroine is super feminine – I try and give her a name that reflects that. Then I find one I love. Sometimes I ask my friends for suggestions, people love to give me names at parties (I need to call a Greek hero Eros at some point J) and if I’m stuck, I will comb the Internet and name lists from different countries/nationalities.

8. How do you push through writer’s block?
Keep writing. Talking to a critique partner or my editor always helps a ton. But sometimes it’s only by writing what doesn’t work that you find out what does work, but you can’t do that if you have nothing on the page. I have deleted scenes, entire endings if they don’t feel right. What I do know is when a scene is hard for me, when it isn’t flowing, there’s something wrong. Either it’s the wrong scene, or I haven’t laid enough groundwork for it, or the characters aren’t behaving true to character. I have to identify what the problem is, go back and look at the characters motivations. Because when a story is working, it flies for me.

9. What’s the best career advice you’ve ever had?
Without a doubt Sharon Kendrick who always says, “Just write the best damn book you can”. That’s it. It’s the only thing we as writers can control when there’s noise around us: leveraging our unique voices to create the most magical story we can.

10. Your preferred writing snack?
Coffee and more coffee :) And maybe biscuits.

11. Who is your favourite fictional couple?
Scarlett O’Hara and Rhett Butler. Of late, I am also addicted to Gideon and Eva’s disfunctional, but amazing relationship in Sylvia Day’s Crossfire series.

12. If you could rewrite your life, what would you change?
I would have taken a lot more chances with I wouldn’t have let fear rule me as much as it did when I was younger and approached life as the adventure it is. I have this ‘Life IS’ poster on my fridge now and it reminds me that life is short. If you don’t like something about yours, change it.

13. What would your readers be surprised to know about you?
I once had a six course dinner with William Shatner – Captain Kirk – as part of my PR career. He was fascinating and lovely.

14. What is your most overused word?
Could be ‘actually’, actually

15. If I wasn’t a romance author, I would have liked to be…
Coffee shop owner

16. When was the last time you said ‘I love you’?
To my little boy yesterday – we say it to each other all the time. I think that’s important for him to always know he’s loved.

17. What does love feel like?
Intense, bittersweet, passionate, heartbreaking, pure. Although he wasn’t talking about love in A Tale of Two Cities, what Charles Dickens said describes it perfectly for me – “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times”. Love can be the highest high and the lowest low – nothing else touches it.

18. What’s your guiltiest pleasure?
A glass of wine and a book – anywhere – but preferably curled up in front of a fire or watching a sunset in the Caribbean.

19. What’s your most romantic song?
Oh so many but I have to say ‘If’ by Bread is one of my favourites. Not sure anything more beautiful has been written.

20. Every hero needs a…
sense of humor. To me one of the sexiest things in a man, no matter how powerful, no matter how autocratic, is the ability to laugh at himself or at life. It might just be a tiny crack in his ultra-serious façade, the briefest vulnerability in his impenetrable armour, but it gives him humanity. I need a hero to have that.

If you loved this Q&A, then make sure you check out Jennifer’s new book, The Italian’s Deal for I Do, the first in a brand-new Presents miniseries Society Weddings!

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I Sold My Book!

A warm #SoldBlog congratulations to Harlequin Intrigue’s newest author, Ryshia Kennie! Welcome to the Harlequin family, we’re so thrilled to have you :-)

Authpr ophoto

I got the call!  Harlequin Intrigue wants my romantic suspense set in Malaysia.  I’ve been smiling ever since.

The lead-up to the call began in the middle of 2014 at the RWA Conference when my agent, Scott Eagan, showed Harlequin Intrigue editor, Allison Lyons, my synopsis.  After passing on a few prior projects, Allison wanted to read the story.  On hearing the news, I was ready to set off fireworks on the front lawn.  But time passed and the excitement slid to the back burner.  I kept writing and as winter settled in I pinned my hopes on another story.

Hope arrived again in the latter weeks of January 2015.  Ironically, I missed the call.  Instead I received a voice mail from Scott announcing that he had good news. When I called him back he said that Allison liked the story but needed final approval.  Great news but it still wasn’t a yes.  I celebrated a “maybe” with a gourmet supper cooked by my husband and a bottle of wine.  Time moved slowly after that call and hope went up and down like a fishing buoy.

It was February before I received another call from Scott.  It was official!  Harlequin Intrigue had accepted the story and Allison would be calling.  I danced my way around the house, kissed my husband who then took me out to celebrate with a bit of dreaming at the RV Show followed by supper at our favorite brewpub.  With anticipation building, I waited for the call, the one that would come from New York.

February 24, 2015 – There are moments in my life that I’ll never forget but this one was pivotal.  Allison called to confirm the news Scott had told me a few days earlier. She was a whirlwind of fresh air and immediately put me at ease.

I learned a lot in that first phone call.  I hadn’t realized how supportive and welcoming Harlequin is.  Allison assured me that I was about to find out as she gave me more information than I could ever have imagined in one phone call.  I don’t know how much I absorbed.  It’s a good thing that I have a habit of scribbling notes as I talk on the phone.  All I knew then was that my writing world had changed big time, and for the better.  Needless to say, I celebrated again!

At last, the stories I love, the romance and intrigue set in distant or exotic settings have found a home.   They are stories born out of my love of travel that started with long ago family vacations.  Every summer my father drove us to various locations across Canada and the United States, and even a tiptoe into Mexico.  As an adult I’ve ventured further afield and along the way I’ve filled travel journals with encounters and experiences.   Some memories need no recording, like the Hawaiian earthquake or the face-to-face standoff with the monitor lizard in Malaysia.  All of those experiences influence my stories. I love to recreate the feel of those foreign settings, placing my characters smack in the middle of a place that’s frothing with danger, whether its Myanmar’s majestic Plains of Bagan, the temples of Angkor Wat or the sweeping plains of New Mexico.

And the call… it’s confirmation that this hasn’t been a dream.  It’s proof that the envelopes that I’d sent all those years ago pre-agent, pre-everything, to New York with SASE that included pretty little “Love” stamps as if they were some sort of good luck charm, weren’t wasted.   They paved the way.   A way that so far is “Fabulous darling, just fabulous!”

Congratulate Ryshia on Twitter, Facebook, her blog, or below! And keep an eye out for her first book for Harlequin Intrigue, available in 2016.

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Advice from the Archives: It’s Just A Big Misunderstanding…

It seems like ages since our last Advice from the Archives but don’t worry, we’re back with more brilliant advice to help you get the best out of your stories! This week we have a great post from SYTYCW 2014 on coincidences, contrivance & misunderstandings – enjoy!

Coincidence, contrivance, misunderstandings

Avoiding the pitfalls of contrivance, coincidence and misunderstandings in a story usually comes down to the characters’ conflicts – how internal or external they are – and development. If the premise of a story is contrived, a reader may find it hard to believe in the characters and their journey. And relying on a coincidence or misunderstanding can be an easy fix to disguise what is missing in a character’s development. So how can it be avoided?

If the premise of the story seems too convenient or too forced, it may not be quite believable enough to the reader. And in this situation, what will keep them reading the story? Strengthening a character’s internal conflict could make it easier for the reader to understand the characters’ motivations and develop sympathy for the character so that they itch to turn the pages!

How to avoid sounding contrived? If the characters’ emotional conflicts are unconvincing, and what’s keeping them apart is unclear and a bit weak, the best step is usually to go back and explore their conflicts more. Think about what is really keeping them apart. Is it an external event – something neither of them can control? If so, the question arises that once this is resolved, what’s to stop them growing closer? The answer is usually, nothing. In which case there is often no tension and no deeper character development for the reader to enjoy.

So really think about the best way to bring the characters together that is believable and enjoyable. For example, when writing forced proximity between your characters, try to develop fresh new ideas for how they are flung together in a situation! Ask yourself what would you do in that situation? Then try absolutely every other option and if you reach a stage where there are no alternatives, then you have your believable set up!

Often, misunderstandings are used as a primary conflict between a hero and heroine, but try to avoid creating a conflict that could be solved if only the characters would just have an honest conversation. If the hero and heroine are staying apart because of a misunderstanding, the conflict between them isn’t based on strong underlying emotions, which can be very frustrating for the reader as they can’t identify with the characters.

It is usually the case that if a hero and heroine’s conflicts are external then their issues are more likely to be resolved with a simple conversation – rather than them actually overcoming their internal emotional barriers. And what is to keep them apart once they have that chat and address those external issues? If the conflict is based on a misunderstanding, there are no real obstacles for the characters to overcome and so nothing can keep them apart. This can create a very weak and unsatisfying ending for the reader.

To avoid leaving the reader dissatisfied by the hero and heroine’s easy resolution, dig deep and build the layers of their emotional conflicts – think about what in their internal conflict is actually keeping them apart and how are they going to overcome it?

How to avoid using a misunderstanding between characters? Plan the story carefully and ensure that the characters conflicts can’t just be resolved with a conversation. Really send them on a journey of discovery as they learn about themselves and overcome the emotional – not external – obstacles.

A coincidence is usually employed a when the conflict isn’t strong enough or developed enough to drive the story forward. This can be annoying for the reader and often leads to a very unsatisfying resolution. But, avoiding coincidences can help to strengthen a story.

For example, if a hero and heroine meet up again because they choose to rather than just running into each other, this can be much more powerful and have a bigger impact on the reader. Really dig deep to discover what is driving your characters. Focus on their internal conflicts rather than relying on a coincidence to bring them together or drive them apart. If they make these decisions themselves, rather than fate playing a part, the payoff can be more satisfying as the reader has seen the character development through the story.

How to avoid using a coincidence to drive the story? If a coincidence has been used, try going back and rethinking about how to achieve the ending through deeper character development and layering the emotional conflict.


1. Focus on creating a convincing set up.
2. Ensure it takes more than a conversation to overcome the obstacles.
3. Use internal conflict to drive the story, rather than a coincidence.

Have any of you had to deal with these common pitfalls in your writing? If so, how did you deal with it? And do you feel your story is stronger now?

You’ve heard from the Harlequin Editors, but now it’s time to use all the advice we’ve given you! On Friday we launch a fantastic feature on Sold! to help you flex those creative muscles! Get ready for Sold!’s #WritingChallenge!

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My Ultimate Crush: Sir Anthony Fanshawe

Make way, make way! Sir Anth- we mean… Carina Press author Josh Lanyon is here today to offer up his Ultimate Crush! Be warned, you may be swept off your feet before you’ve finished reading! 

“And I,” said Sir Anthony, “can finish my dinner!”

I think it’s interesting that these days my ultimate crush is a character I actively disliked when I was a much younger romance reader.

Sir Anthony Fanshawe of Georgette Heyer’s Regency romance The Masqueraders is described as “a very large and leisurely gentleman indeed…he had certainly a presence and a personality.” It wasn’t just my youthful preference for slight, quicksilver and sardonic men, Sir Anthony is described as deliberate, placid, indolent, imperturbable, humorous, sober, peaceable and, worst of all, respectable.  He is unquestionably a grown up. A mature and confident man who thinks before he speaks, let alone acts.

Now a grown up myself, I know how much that means!

Which is why when Sir Anthony falls for the cross-dressing adventuress Prudence Merriot, it’s pretty damned romantic. From the standpoint of a solid citizen like Sir Anthony, Prudence is initially very much a liability. She is penniless and her family lineage is inglorious, to say the least. Not only that, both her father and brother are escaped Jacobites. Did I mention the part about her running around London society dressed as a man?

In short, not the kind of woman Sir Anthony might be expected to offer for.

But Sir Anthony is shrewd and insightful and he quickly susses Prudence’s secret. Not only is he not shocked, he determines to protect her — and her family — at all costs. When she’s called out, he picks a fight and duels with her challenger — and then he elopes with her. Or as good as. In the end, he takes her to stay with his mother (he is, after all, a gentleman and a grown up).

As a younger reader, Sir Anthony’s capable certainty annoyed me. Prudence didn’t need or want rescuing, and Sir Anthony was putting an end to all her adventuring. But Prudence herself says early on she is tired of adventuring, tired of being on the run and living out of her trunk. While she doesn’t need or want rescuing, she does appreciate the strong shoulder and ready arm Sir Anthony offers. They share a sense of humor and a similar world view, despite their different situations.

“My dear, I have looked many times in your eyes,” he said. “They tell me all I have need to know.”

I find that awfully romantic, and all the more so because we readers know Sir Anthony doesn’t say that kind of thing lightly. He’s not given to flowery speeches. He means it. Every word.

And probably the most romantic thing about Sir Anthony is this grown up man, so thoughtful and experienced and yes, wise, suffers no particular conflict over his feelings for Prudence. He is a man who does not let society or politics dictate what he believes in — let alone who he shall love. He has complete respect and admiration for Prudence, and he’s got the courage and honesty to say so without dramatics.

“I have nothing but pride in you. In your courage, and in the quick wits of you. I have never known so wonderful a woman.”

One thing for sure, life with Sir Anthony might prove stable, but it would never be dull.

Tweet @JoshLanyon and let him know what you think. Is it yay or nay to to Sir Anthony Fanshawe? 

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Sunday Writing Inspiration!

Today on Sold! we’re launching brand new feature to help get those creative juices flowing! Introducing… Sunday Writing Inspiration! Each week we’ll post an inspirational quote to help you get into writing mode! Read, share and enjoy…

23rd march sunday writing inspiration

Happy writing!

The SOLD team

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How To Write A Great Query Letter

This weekend, we’ve got Editorial Assistant Carly Silver on SOLD to talk about how to write a query letter that will impress the Harlequin editors before they’ve even read your submission!

For more advice on how to ensure your submission stands out from the crowd, check out this post on how to avoid the dreaded cliche!

Happy Writing!
The Sold Team

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Interview with…Lynda Aicher

Lynda Aicher first sold to Harlequin in 2012. Her Wicked Play debut was Bonds of Trust and since then, she has written seven books. What she loves most about writing for Harlequin is the publishing opportunities and wonderful support structure within the company.

Follow @LyndaAicher on Twitter and Facebook and don’t miss Back in Play, out May 2015!

1. What book first got you hooked on Harlequin?Lynda aicher
I remember reading Harlequin books when I was a teenager and took them from my mom’s shelf. More recently, it was Gena Showalters’ Lords of the Underworld series that reminded me of the diversity of stories Harlequin provides.

2. How did you celebrate selling your first manuscript?
I danced around the kitchen before frantically calling everyone who would want to cheer with me. I ran on an adrenaline high all day and my husband brought home a bottle of Champagne to celebrate that night.

3. Which of the many books you’ve written has stayed with you the most and why?
That’s a hard one because they all have memorable points. I honestly think my favorite books is the one I’m working on and then I start a new manuscript and the cycle repeats.

4. What’s top of your TBR pile?
I read an average of four to five books a week and currently have over one hundred unread books on my e-reader, so that pile is constantly changing. But right this second, it’s probably Beneath the Stain by Amy Lane or Down and Dirty by Rhys Ford (I read mostly Male/Male).

5. What book do you wish you’d written and why?
I have a Male/Male series mapped out in my head that I’d love to write, but I have no time right now to write it.

6. What’s harder – first or last lines?
Both! For the book and each chapter. They really are critical for setting the emotion and pace of the story and I often tweak every one before the book is final.

7. How do you choose your characters names?
It’s all very random for my contemporary stories. I keep a list of names I like for future characters and I won’t use a “good” name on a side character. But when a new character appears in a story it’s often what pops in my head and fits the character. I also try to avoid character names starting with the same letter in the same book. But I do have to “feel” the name for main characters and I always establish those before I start writing.

8. How do you push through writer’s block?
I call in my awesome writing buddies to brainstorm around the block. I’ve discovered that when my writing slows down it’s my instincts telling me I’m going in the wrong direction. I’ve learned to listen to this and take a step back to figure out where I went off-track and how to fix it. Usually, all I need is one little nugget of an idea that blows the block away and off I go again.

9. What’s the best career advice you’ve ever had?
Ignore all the dos and don’ts and just finish your first book. I did listen to the basics about plotting structure and character arcs, but I ignored the pile of “advice” about what you must do or not do in a romance novel or writing. It took me five months to finish my first book and it will never be seen by anyone. Ever. But I learned a ton by simply finishing it. My second completed book sold as has all but one since then.

10. Your preferred writing snack?
Beef Jerky or Wasabi Almonds and a glass of Coke.

11. Who is your favorite fictional couple?
Ack! Hard question because there are so many. But the first one that comes to mind is Belle and Zsadist from the Black Dagger Brotherhood series.

12. If you could rewrite your life, what would you change?
Nothing. That is the only answer because to change anything would make the right now different and I’m pretty dang happy with the right now.

13. What would your readers be surprised to know about you?
Hmm…I’m not sure. I don’t think I’m much of a surprising person. I’m pretty direct and open. Maybe it’s that I think of myself as an introvert. I may take on challenges and go after what I want, but given a choice between staying home or going out, I’ll always pick home.

14. What is your most overused word?
That one changes every book. Lol. My editor is constantly highlighting a different word or phrase in each book and I diligently work to minimize it in the next one only to have a new one slip in. That is the value of a good editor.

15. If I wasn’t a romance author, I would have liked to be…
Well, I’ve already been a software consultant, technical writer, instructional designer, program manager, volunteer, preschool teacher, treasurer, mom, wife, daughter, sister and friend. I’m not sure if there is anything else I’m itching to add to the list. I became a romance author later in my life and I’ve found a sweet spot right where I am.

16. When was the last time you said ‘I love you’?
This morning. I say it every day, multiple times a day, to my family and close friends. I believe you can never say it enough because actions speak great, but words reinforce and warm you.

17. What does love feel like?
New love is: hot, exciting, scary, exhilarating, frustrating, nerve-racking, surprising, hopeful.
Old love is: warm, relaxing, comfortable, security, exhausting, trying, flexing, hopeful.
They both end with hopeful because love, no matter how new or old, always provides that beacon to carry us forward.

18. What’s your guiltiest pleasure?
It’s going to have to be reading. Seriously, it has been since I was twelve. I will ignore everything for a story. I would rather read than go out. Add in a glass of Coke and a bag of potato chips with French onion dip and I’m happy—until real-life invades once again.

19. What’s your most romantic song?
That changes constantly. But I recently found Never Stop (Wedding Version) by SafetySuit and it became the theme song for Back in Play, book two in Power Play. It’s absolutely beautiful and exactly what love is about.

20. Every hero needs a…
Person to love them. No matter how brave or strong or hard or dedicated someone is, they still need a person who loves them unconditionally. One person who has their back and cares for their heart. Be it a parent, sibling or lover, that person keeps the hero warm no matter how cold he or she gets.

Hope you all enjoyed these insights into the wonderful world of Lynda Aicher! Don’t forget to check out our weekend writing tip tomorrow and don’t miss our fab new inspirational feature on Sunday! 

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Confessions of a Harlequin Editor: Adrienne Macintosh

This week, we’ve persuaded Harlequin American and Harlequin Blaze Editor Adrienne Macintosh onto the SOLD blog to ‘fess all – enjoy!

Adrienne Macintosh 2013Hi! My name is Adrienne Macintosh, and I’m an editor for Harlequin American and Harlequin Blaze, primarily. I’ve been with Harlequin for ten years, and have gained something of a reputation for my ability to kill plants and find free food. But there are a few things people may not know about me, so here it goes, my confessions….

Things I Love

My first TV crushes were Detective Peter Caine from Kung Fu: The Legend Continues and Constable Benton Fraser from Due South.  I know what you’re thinking—this girl clearly has a thing for police guys (and cheesy Canadian dramas). And yeah, guilty (on both counts).  But apart from their professions, these two were quite different. Peter was a hot-shot detective and a ladies’ man; while Fraser was a straight-laced, extremely polite Mountie who was wonderfully inept when it came to women.  And I think that’s an important thing to remember—a romance with a cop hero (or heroine) can have a lot of variation within it. And the same is true for cowboy romances, military romances, firefighter romances, etc. So to make me fall in love, remember to be creative within the genre or subgenre.

Things I Don’t Love

A few years ago, I went to see The Adjustment Bureau with a friend of mine. She loved it. I hated it because the film reminded me of problems I frequently encounter in romance manuscripts. Matt Damon’s character, David, is given a glimpse into his future with beautiful ballerina Elise and discovers that by being with him, Elise will lose the thing that she loves most and end up a teacher. Oh, and he’ll be lobotomized for not following “the plan”. So he decides to leave her. He doesn’t ask her whether she might actually like to be a teacher, or whether being with him might be worth it. No, he just leaves her (in the hospital!).

Yes, he is saving her and himself, but the exciting thing about romance is the risk. And aside from that, he doesn’t give Elise a voice in the decision making, showing a lack of respect for her. And how can you love someone you don’t respect? Once he finally decides to defy the Adjustment Bureau and fight for their future together (months after he leaves her and just as she’s about to marry another man, by the way), she goes with him blindly with very little show of her own agency (grow a backbone, Elise!).

So to win me over, remember that risk is exciting and that women are kickass and can make their own decisions. I could say more about the movie, but this is not called Editor Rants….

Things You Can Make Me Love

Here’s where you may get confused. Because you can make me like a romance where the conflict is mostly external. You can make me agree with a hero who leaves his love because it’s the best thing for her. You can even make me fall for the most unlikeable man in the universe (hello, Don Draper?). And the key to that is to motivate your characters well. And that’s the final key to my heart…at least that I’ll confess to.

So, those are my confessions, and, as Fraser would do, I’ll thank you kindly for reading them.

Are you a closet Due South fan too? Do you have any questions for Adrienne? Tweet @AdrienneApple or leave a comment below!

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