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My most popular story, Change of Heart, is being translated into French! The lovely Arumbaya has begun work and the first chapter is now posted. You can read it on Fan Fiction or on a French-language forum called Describe your House.

Just for the hell of it, I ran the first chapter through a translator because my only French is ‘hello’, ‘goodbye’, ‘thank you’, and ‘will you sleep with me tonight’. It’s quite hilarious, not the least of which is that ‘Cut-throat Bitch’ becomes ‘Furious Bitch’! Love it! (Oh and it has nothing to do with the quality of the translation, just the randomness of internet-translator bots, as I’m sure anyone who’s played with them before can attest!)

I’ve said before that I don’t quite understand the popularity of Change of Heart, especially given that reading it back now, after two years more writing practice, makes me cringe at all the things that should be better. But it continues to gain new ‘favourites’ each month and in the monthly stats it is always in my top three stories. I wonder if it is like a snowball – because lots of people favourite it, lots more people notice it and therefore favourite it? I don’t know!

Anyway, I know that I do have French-speaking readers and I’ve been lucky enough to chat to a few of them over the years. I hope that you enjoy reading (or re-reading!) in your first language.

I’m feeling very honoured that someone felt my story worthy of the work that must go in to translating.

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As someone who hopes one day to get published, I probably spend as much time learning about writing as actually writing. (And actually writing probably counts as learning too!)

I have a massive list of blogs on my Google Reader, authors, agents, publishers, reviewers, readers, you name it, and if I don’t keep on top of it, the number of posts to read swells to an unmanageable number very, very quickly.

At the moment, though, I’m hanging on every word of Paula Roe, in her blog series A Novel in 3 Months. Her current post (the one I’ve linked to) is about GMC = Goal, Motivation and Conflict, the holy trinity of character development. It looks simple, but when you try to apply it to characters of your own making it’s far less easy.

I’ve struggled with it, and I’m struggling with it in the story I’m trying to write right now. So, I thought, as an exercise, to try to get this concept straight, let’s apply it to Greg House.

Goal (desire or want)

What does House want that he doesn’t have? I think the answer is “personal fulfillment” or “meaning”. He searches for answers in every medical puzzle, in every patient, wanting to understand not just what is wrong with them, but what makes them tick. (At least he used to. Back in the early days of the show). His constant, existential search for meaning came primarily through his medical pursuits and the cases that he solved.

Then things changed and he began to realise that some of this meaning could be found in the more lasting relationships he had with the people around him: Wilson, Cuddy, his team. Of course what we House/OC writers like to imagine is that this search extends to a romantic relationship (something the show has toyed with but never really provided). We like to imagine him finding fulfillment by connecting with a woman (usually) and finding happiness in a relationship.

Another goal he has is to be “left alone”. We see him push people away, over and over (especially prior to his Mayfield visit). He projects through his words and actions an independence that he treasures.

Motivation (what makes him tick)

After five and a half years of getting to know this character we still don’t fully understand what makes him tick. But we certainly do have some idea.

Intelligent, perhaps too intelligent, he has never fitted in — he has often used his smarts to manipulate other people and situations to his own advantage. His family upbringing was harsh, an only child and the product of an extra-marital affair — abuse has been mentioned, but we don’t know exactly what form it took (despite the wild imaginings of many fan fic writers!). We get the impression that he broke away from his parents at an early age, his relationship from them as distant as he could make it.

Why did he go into medicine? Because he saw the respect given to a Japanese man, a doctor of low class, who no one thought counted, until they needed him. At a young age, House saw that the fact that this man had knowledge bridged every other disadvantage he faced. Suddenly we see it: this boy, painfully bright, wants only to find a way to use his knowledge to gain the esteem and respect of others. With fragile self-confidence and low self-esteem (caused by many factors including the abuse and a constantly shifting home as a military brat) House strives to be noticed and to matter at the very same time as he appears to disdain the very notion of such things.  Contradictory? Absolutely! I’m not sure if Paula would agree with me, but I’m figuring that’s what makes him such an appealing character.

His need to be “left alone” is perhaps linked to a deep-seated fear that he isn’t actually worthy of being loved. The breakdown of his only significant relationship (that we know of), left him shattered both physically and emotionally. He doesn’t appear to ever want to risk that pain again, seeking companionship from ‘paid help’ and brief affairs. (Although we’ve never really been privy to an affair other than Lydia, but we can guess there have been others: the nutritionist for example.)

Conflict (tension, roadblocks)

I think conflict in a five-year long TV series is a different beast to conflict in a novel. However this is where internal and external conflict become important. Internal conflict is the emotions, tensions, struggles and hangups that prevent the character from achieving their goals. External conflict is the ‘plot’, the events and the changes that happen that cause the story to develop. In most cases, the patient-of-the-week storyline in House is external conflict — something that stirs emotion or gets in the way.

From a romance writers angle, I’ve heard it described as ‘internal conflict pulls them apart, external conflict pushes them together’. It’s the old ‘cabin fever’ plot device: put two opposing characters into a situation they can’t escape from and see what happens…

The more conflict there is, the more compelling the story becomes (although within reason — you don’t want to test your readers’ patience with unending and unbearable angst). I’m sure you’ve all read a romance or a love story where you absolutely couldn’t possibly imagine how the two protagonists were ever going to end up together and were desperate to keep reading to find out what happened. That’s conflict.

(And, as a side note, perhaps that’s where David Shore is shooting himself in the food with the whole House/Cuddy storyline — the more things get in the way of them coming together, the more those rabid fans weld themselves to that outcome!)

Conflict is the hardest thing to write successfully, in my opinion. ESPECIALLY in fan fiction, where you are restricted in many ways to the character traits, goals and motivations that someone else has set.

A common problem I’ve found in my own writing is that I end up with both the internal and the external conflict pushing the characters away from each other and thinking that sexual tension is enough to pull them back together again. Sometimes it works, but it can make a story feel flimsy. (And editors and publishers don’t like it — trust me on that one!)

Another trap that’s easy to fall into, is making the internal conflict so complicated and complex, that you lose yourself in explaining what makes the character tick without actually showing what influence it has — i.e. why it is important. A great author I listened to speak said that character motivations should be ‘simple and deep, not complex and shallow’. I guess if you have five years to tell a character’s story you have the luxury of making it both ‘deep and complex’.

And perhaps that’s why we love writing fan fic — how else can we get to play with a character that has had five years to tell us his story??

Okay, so GMC in a nutshell: Character wants something. Character has flaws that get in the way of them achieving that. Things happen that help and hinder them along the way. Then, in the case of romance (and stories I like to read) somehow character emerges triumphant.

Hmm. Still sounds simple. Still is really, really, not. Back to reading and writing and learning, for me…

A very intimidating title, there, and one I’m not sure I’m going to completely deserve with this post. However, it is something that has been on my mind this week as I battle with a few of my usual writing demons.

In traditional romance writing, the character arcs of the hero and heroine generally follow predictable trajectories. That’s not to say every character goes through the same thing, but that there are generally recognisable stages and steps that characters go through as we progress through a story. Probably one of the most well-known is the hero’s journey monomyth. (Wikipedia reference) If you want to know what that is, watch Star Wars, because apparently George Lucas copied it. Or so people say. (I haven’t done any actual academic creative writing theory, so for those of you who have, forgive me if this seems primitive.)

However, what can you do when the lead role in your story (whether hero or heroine) is played by someone else’s character – one that your readers know well and love? How much leeway do you have to change that character or to have them undergo some kind of transformational journey? And, if you decide to play things carefully, how do you ensure that your story is still satisfying and that, by the end, it feels like all the characters (both canon and OC) have come to the end of their respective journeys?

In writing House, there are some quite strong constraints around the character which, in my mind, he can’t grow too far from. He can’t suddenly become a submissive, docile man who will go along with whatever the heroine wants (or second hero, in the case of slash, I guess). He also can’t NOT change, because the whole point of the story (in a romance) is for him to find happiness in another human being, which, as a canon character, he finds incredibly difficult. The trick lies in finding a balance somewhere between.

Many fan fics I’ve read seem to go too far one way or the other.

Either House doesn’t change and so the story isn’t satisfying or doesn’t seem believable, because the House we know on the TV show would not be instantly transferrable, unchanged, into a stable, loving relationship. (Yes, we all know it’s there, just under the surface, and that’s why we write this, to explore it, but we all have to admit that he would have to change at least some things in order to make it work.)

Some fan fic writers go the other way and make House into an instantly soft and squishy, passive romantic lead. Yes, he gave Cameron a corsage. Yes, he brought Cuddy’s desk back from her parents’ place. But let’s face it: mostly, he’s still a bastard. He’s a bastard alpha male with a hidden streak of romantic purism and that’s what makes him so damn irresistible as a romantic lead.

I’m not saying that I think I get this balance right myself. It’s just one of the elements that I find difficult about writing House fic. When you write non-fan fiction, your characters are your own and you can invent the backstory and character flaws and past experiences that help to meld the transformation that the character goes through. When you write fan fiction, you are limited by what the canon has revealed and what tweaks you can fit in around the edges.

When a fan fic writer gets this balance right, to me, this is when the pairing or ship or storyline doesn’t matter. If you can take a known character, expand them in a believable way, take them through a journey that transforms them and yet they remain emphatically who the readers recognise, then I think you have succeeded. If you do that, I don’t really care who you have him sleeping with. Agree? Disagree?

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The great and wise Gertrude Stein