When I was learning to write longer work, I found an excellent piece of writing advice from novelist Holly Lisle. She suggests thinking about what a character has to lose. Lisle writes, “Her life, of course. That is always the given, but it isn’t enough. What matters to her more than her own life? What would she die to save?”
I used many of Lisle’s tips when writing my latest release, The Fugitive’s Sexy Brother, and I found that this question opened up my characters in a way that made them feel truly vivid to me. It also helped fill the book with action and conflict.
For example, my hero, Javier, cares most about his older brother’s regard—which really becomes a problem when he finds himself in a situation where he needs to betray his brother for the sake of the woman he’s starting to love. My heroine, Emily, cares most about succeeding in her career as a bounty hunter. She’s not making money at it yet, so she lives in poverty rather than accepting financial help from her father, who would demand she find a more respectable and lucrative way to make a living.
The place where this technique really took off, though, was in my villain, Matthew, who is also Emily’s ex-boyfriend. I’ve always had a problem with villains who are trying to destroy the good guys (cue evil laughter) for no particular reason. By thinking about what he had to lose, I was able to make my villain act in a more sensible way, with more emotional impact.
In Matthew’s case, I decided that what he loves more than anything else in the world is his orange Lotus Elise 2008, California Edition. At one point, Matthew had a promising career as a bounty hunter, and he bought the car at the height of his success. To him, it represents all that he wants to attain in life, and all the potential that he has. Losing it is unthinkable—but a car like that is expensive to maintain and pay off. Much of the wrong that Matthew does in the course of the book stems from trying to solve this central problem.
As Matthew came to life, the book began to truly take shape in my mind. I understood his desperation, but I didn’t like him, especially not when he was willing to hurt people for the sake of his car. In acting according to his priorities, Matthew forced the people around him to change, and change is what any good story is all about.
To show what I mean, I’ll give you an excerpt about Matthew. The woman he’s with, Neva, is at the center of her own sub-plot, which follows her effort to stand up for herself and find a man who will treat her well. The snippet below should make clear how Matthew’s behavior pushes Neva to change.
Emily Boysen is sick of low-level bounty hunting jobs that don’t pay her rent, and sick to death of her ex-boyfriend taking credit for her work. Ready to claim her due, she takes on the quarry of a lifetime, the notorious Fernando Bonavita. But instead of the fugitive, she captures his sexy younger brother, Javier.
Javier Bonavita never wanted to know the truth about his older brother’s activities, instead protecting him out of loyalty. When he uses his hacking skills to pose as Fernando, he never expects to uncover crimes he can’t stomach. Beautiful Emily has no idea how glad he is to be in her custody—as long as he’s her prisoner, he doesn’t have to face his brother.
Passion flares between Emily and Javier, and soon he’s putting the handcuffs on her. Suspicion grows along with their feelings, though. A sinister plot centers around Fernando, and untangling it will test their loyalties to the limit.
A light in the driveway outside jerked Matthew to awareness despite Neva restrained beneath him. He stopped moving with her as he craned his neck to peer out the window high above her bed.
“Matthew? You all right?”
The Lotus. How could he have left it in her driveway so carelessly? Panic slammed through him. He fumbled with the quick release he’d tied into the rope around her wrists, releasing her bonds even as he pulled out of her body. Matthew jumped off the bed without answering any of Neva’s spluttered questions. He held his pants up with one hand and raced out of her bedroom and through her unfamiliar house. He slammed his hip into her dining room table and stubbed his toe against the couch in her living room. The front door slowed him, forcing him to fiddle with the unfamiliar pattern of its locks while Neva called to him from the bedroom.
Matthew undid all the bolts and flung open the door in time to see the repo man lowering his flashlight and sliding a key into the driver’s side lock.
“No!” Matthew tripped over his sagging pants and sprawled face-forward in Neva’s front yard. The repo man snickered and opened the car door, going into a deep crouch to fit his long body into the low-slung driver’s seat. Adrenaline surged through Matthew. He could not allow this to happen. He kicked his pants free and raced full-out for the repo man.
Before the other man could successfully navigate his way into Matthew’s unfamiliar car, Matthew grabbed his arm and yanked him away. The repo man twisted and resisted, but Matthew would not let go. Their bodies tangled together for a moment, then the force of the struggle overcame their balance. The two men tumbled onto Neva’s driveway.
Concrete opened stinging tears along Matthew’s bare knees and forearms, but he gritted his teeth through the pain and rolled to keep the repo man pinned. Lit only by the discarded flashlight and the Lotus’s open-door light, the repo man’s face was all shadows and sharp angles. Matthew hated the sight of it with an intensity he’d never felt before. He punched the other man in the side as hard as he could. Something cracked.
The repo man choked and grunted, sweat breaking out across his forehead. His face paled. “What’s the matter with you? Don’t hit me anymore. I’m not taking your damn car anywhere tonight. I don’t have a death wish, and I don’t think I could drive right now anyway.”
“You stay away from me and my car.”
“For tonight, fine. Can you get off me? I think you broke one of my floating ribs.”
“Stay away permanently and we have a deal.” Matthew lay across the other man’s body, increasing the pressure on his adversary’s rib cage.
Rage and pain transformed the repo man’s face. “You think you’re above the law?”
“No more or less than you, my friend. You think you can steal my car, and I think I can make you pay for that.” Breathing hard, Matthew eased himself off the repo man, reaching to the Lotus for reassurance. She was still there beside him, her newly painted door sleek under his fingers. He nudged the repo man with his toe, and the man cried out and tried to roll away.
Matthew glanced back toward Neva’s house. She’d still be in there, naked and waiting for him to finish what he’d started. He didn’t have the patience for that anymore. Not when he’d nearly lost the Elise over it. Matthew kicked the repo man one more time to distract him and ran back to where he’d left his pants. He grabbed them, but didn’t bother to pull them on. Still half-naked, he dropped gratefully into the Lotus and sped away. Neva would understand when he explained himself later—she wanted him too much to make trouble over this.
All he wanted now was a long drive, feeling the Elise slicing through the night, her engine purring beneath his feet, her gas pedal more responsive than a woman’s body.
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Annabeth Leong has written erotica of many flavors. She loves shoes, stockings, cooking and excellent bass lines. She always keeps a new e-book loaded on her phone and a paperback stashed in her purse, but her eyes are still bigger than her stomach whenever she visits a bookseller. She blogs at annabethleong.blogspot.com, and tweets @AnnabethLeong. Watch for her next contemporary erotic romance from Ellora's Cave, Get Laid.
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