Part 4: From Screenplays to Novels

That Blake Snyder workshop turned out to be a major turning point in my life.

It not only gave me tremendous confidence as a writer, but it became doubly precious to me when Blake died, far too young, the following year. If I had not dropped everything to get to that workshop, I would never have met him. (Happily for other writers, his books, website, and workshops live on.)

Also at the workshop, I discovered that romance novels had come a long way since the last time I’d looked at one. Now there were all kinds of subgenres, from paranormal to historical to “chick lit” to inspirational. More often than not they had the kind of heroes I’d actually want to be with in real life, as well as heroines who were just as likely to save themselves (and/or the hero) as stand by waiting to be rescued. (Goodbye, “bodice ripper”!)

My most exciting discovery that weekend was that there were hundreds of authors making a living writing romance novels. Even with the ups and downs and uncertainties of publishing, this was actually a viable career. I certainly loved romance—all my screenplays were romantic comedies, after all. Again, influenced by my favorite things—romantic comedies and musicals—I wanted to tell stories with upbeat and emotionally satisfying endings. So I began to think about writing not only screenplays, but romance novels as well.

One reason I’d never attempted a novel before was that it seemed too daunting. I could think of an interesting beginning to a story, and often visualize how I wanted it to end. But how in the world does one flesh out the middle? What is that mysterious process of getting the book’s characters through a set of circumstances that will keep the reader engaged? I realized that although Blake’s book was written for screenwriters, it held the principles that would work for novels, too. Once I knew what turning points I was looking for, the process of creating storylines became exciting and doable.

I quickly joined my local chapter of Romance Writers of America and immersed myself in the classes and conferences they had to offer. I discovered that the authors in my area had experience and wisdom that they were more than willing to share. They gave me the tools and inspiration to turn my ideas into a completed novel.

For every author, the process of finding one’s “voice” is often a matter of trial and error. In my case, I began by writing a contemporary romance, but I never completed it in novel form. In the end I turned that story into a romantic comedy screenplay. For my novel, I found my “voice” was better suited to historicals. I settled on the Victorian era because I already loved that time period and knew a lot about it.

In 2010, An Heiress at Heart (which at the time was called The Heiress Returns) was a finalist in the Romance Through the Ages contest held by Hearts Through History Romance Writers. It also won an award for “Most Memorable Hero” in the same contest. The hero, a clergyman turned peer, really seemed to strike a chord with readers. That was my first taste of writing success. I was on my way.

Next up: Out of the Abundance of the Heart