Authors never seem to run out of plots to write about. But it's rare for readers to get a look behind the curtain to see this magic take place. And in even fewer instances, do we get a chance to actually impact the stories that authors create. However, the upcoming historical romance anthology It Happened One Season is the result of four authors taking a reader's idea and running with it.
Authors Stephanie Laurens, Mary Balogh, Jacquie D'Alessandro and Candice Hern have teamed up before. In their 2008 anthology, It Happened One Night, the authors all used the same plot points to write four very different stories. For their new anthology their publisher, Avon, set up a competition where readers submitted the criteria that each of the authors would use in their novellas. After a long process that involved both the authors as well as their fans, reader Phyllis Post's ideas were given to Laurens, Balogh, D'Alessandro and Hern to each see what type of story they would craft. Here were the guidelines they were given:
1. The younger brother of a titled lord, the hero had a career in the army but has lived as a recluse since returning from the war with France.
2. The heroine is shy or unattractive and after many Seasons has never had a suitor.
3. The hero's brother has only daughters and asks his brother to marry in order to try to ensure that succession stays within their family.
Even using the same instructions, in the hands of four incredibly talented writers the resulting stories are very diverse. But just how hard is it for author's to take instructions from someone else? We went to the authors themselves to find out more of what they thought of the prompt and how they crafted their stories.
Mary Balogh - "Only Love"
The four of us read all 1000+ entries in the competition, and each of us picked three favorites (not easy!). We then voted on one another's list and so whittled the twelve semi-finalist entries down to four finalists. I could have worked with any of them, even the three that had not been on my own favorites list. I love a challenge, and I trusted the instincts of my fellow writers. However, the winner was the one from my list, so I was entirely comfortable with the suggested plotline. It ensured that all our stories would be similar in basic plot and character, but it allowed enough scope for originality and the exercise of our individual imaginations and voices.
The plot idea was of the type that most appeals to me--wounded, reclusive hero, lonely, superficially unattractive heroine, a marriage forced by issues other than love. I decided not to make my hero too wounded--there is not enough space in a novella to get too deep into character development. And I cheated a little bit with my heroine. She is a widow, and therefore it could be said that she does not qualify as a woman who has never had any suitors. But in a sense, as you will see, she does. And, as I often do in novellas, I made sure that the hero and heroine had a previous acquaintance. Again, such a device is a space-saver, so important in the shorter format. I loved writing this story, and I loved reading the other three after I was finished to discover just how similar yet different they all are.
Candice Hern - "Fate Strikes a Bargin"
The winning plot was among my two favorites and I was pleased that it won. I thought it had great potential for each of us to develop a unique story. The idea of a reclusive ex-soldier immediately made me think he'd been wounded, perhaps even disabled. I figured at least one of the other authors would use a physically wounded hero, so I decided to make my heroine "wounded" instead by giving her a physical disability. Then, of course, NONE of the other authors used a wounded hero! Several of us developed heroes who were psychologically wounded, but I think there were significant differences in each hero to set him apart. But I was most delighted with the VERY different heroines we each created, based on a young woman who'd had several seasons but no suitors. Not a simple, shy wallflower among our four heroines! I think we proved again that no two, or four, writers using the same plot will ever write the same story.
Stephanie Laurens - "The Seduction of Sebastian Trantor"
While not my favorite of the bunch, the readers' choice was a plot that satisfied my biggest hope - that I would be able to use a secondary character from my contribution to our previous anthology, It Happened One Night. And lo and behold, Tabitha Makepeace was indeed unattractive, at least with respect to being a marriageable miss. The biggest challenge I had was that, given that I wanted Tabitha as my heroine, then the chosen plot would not allow me to use as the hero someone she knew before...which is my explanation of why Tabitha's story, "The Seduction of Sebastian Trantor", ran a little long.
Jacquie D'Alessandro - "Hope Springs Eternal"
When I first learned that our contest had garnered over one thousand entries, I didn’t think we’d ever be able to narrow them down! So many of them were excellent--romance readers have great imaginations! Even though the winning entry was a bit more restrictive than what we used in the first anthology, I was happy with the readers’ selection as it provided me the opportunity to write my very favorite sort of heroine--a woman who isn’t a classic beauty, who doesn’t have men falling at her feet. And also my favorite sort of hero--one who is able to see the heroine’s special qualities, those that require a second glance. Those other men have missed. And also a man who has suffered. I chose to make my hero’s pain internal rather than external, as I believe many soldiers return from war with wounds that have nothing to do with their bodies. Due to the short length of anthology stories, I wanted my hero and heroine to have a history, even though they’d never actually met. In this case, they’ve come to know each other through the heroine’s letters to her soldier brother who was under the hero’s command during the war. I only recently read the stories by the other three authors and I was delighted to discover how we’d each crafted something unique. I hope readers enjoy the book as much as we did writing it!
Ready to see what these authors did when given a reader's idea? The anthology It Happened One Season releases tomorrow!