For most of my career, I’ve let characters drive my plot. Some of my early work helped me work out some issues I was dealing with. For example, when I wrote California Sunset, I was dealing with a job layoff from a large corporation and an alcohol-fueled marriage. Elizabeth, my heroine in California Wine, was based on a friend who devoted herself to creating beauty in and outside her home.
In both these cases, the changes the character had to make in order to incorporate new reality into their lives drove what happened in the story. It was during that series that I also began to see the wisdom of keeping a list of character names, locations, and events so I didn’t change a character’s hair color or have two characters with the same name.
As I’ve worked my way through my series, I began to pay more attention to plot, making sure certain key things happened to keep the book moving forward. (Novels that are character-driven can sometimes feel flat in the middle because nothing seems to be happening.) The trick to doing that is to maintain the growth of the character, so the novel doesn’t turn into a romp chasing a missing object, like Indiana Jones. (A fun movie, but not much on character change.)
Lately, I’ve been experimenting more with tropes in my romance novels. Tropes are common plot devices like enemies to lovers (Hope in Promise Cove) or friends to lovers (Spring in Promise Cove). They can be beloved by readers, but it’s important to me not to lose sight of the character arc.
Our lives are built from one experience to another; our character sculpted by our reactions to the experiences we have. When you read one of my books, I want you to have a comfortable sense of familiarity, a plot that moves forward easily, and a sense that someone in the book has gone through something you have and come out successfully on the other side.