Writing a Mills & Boon novel – Part 4: Getting into character

It’s been a while since I last updated you on my Mills & Boon project/plight. I could tell you I’ve been squirrelled away penning the great opus but that would be a lie. Having said that, I did submit a manuscript to Harlequin, oh yes. I entered their fast track submissions and pitched a story for their RIVA imprint. You can learn more about what the RIVA style entails here but be warned, there are sentences of an exclamatory nature and phrases which may cause distress to some viewers. The line “a flirty young voice and a whole load of sass!” springs to mind in particular.

But that’s not what I want to talk to you about today. What I want to talk about is characters – Mills & Boon characters. This ought to be a short post because there are only two characters in a Mills & Boon novel. No, really. The style guide actually says “I don’t like secondary characters – use with caution!” It is genuinely all about the hero and the heroine. But if you’re thinking that gives you the opportunity to really get stuck into some rich characterisation, think again.

The Mills & Boon heroine breaks down like this:

– She is straight, she is female, she is in her twenties.

– She is sexually inexperienced. She can either have had mediocre sex with one or two partners or she can be a virgin. It’s also fine for her to have been married and even be a mother, as long as her previous relationship was not very fulfilling. And she must NEVER under any circumstances have had an orgasm.

– She is insecure. Usually about dating, sex and her looks. Sometimes about her upbringing, wealth, or position in society. As a rule of thumb there should be ONE thing that she is confident about so as to not make her seem like a complete loser. This could be her job or her family life.

– She has never been in love. Even if she’s been married it was either out of a sense of duty or it was because marriage ‘seemed the natural progression’ even though they clearly weren’t really suited (no passion, you see). For the purposes of Mills & Boon let’s assume there is no such thing as love without tempestuous emotional conflict and sexual fireworks.

– She isn’t looking for love. (Yeah, RIGHT – oldest trick in the chick lit book, that one.)

– She is feisty. What is meant by this is that she can either a) flirt, b) string a sentence together, c) pay her own bills, d) defend herself verbally when someone behaves unjustly towards her… except when befuddled by love hormones, natch, e) refuse to accept money/shopping trips/fancy meals/holidays from a virtual stranger, f) turn down sex… at least initially.

And here’s the Mills & Boon hero:

– He is straight, he is male, he is in his thirties.

– He is sexually experienced. At least in terms of numbers. Mills & Boon is very vanilla – put it this way, cunnilingus is considered pretty daring.

– He is confident. Always about dating, sex, and his looks. Often about his wealth, success, and position in society. As a rule of thumb there should be ONE thing he’s secretly insecure about so as not to make him seem like a complete arsehole. This is usually his upbringing or family life.

– He has never had a relationship. Often this is because he just likes having lots of casual sex but sometimes it is because he is too wrapped up in work or his position in society.

– He isn’t looking for a relationship. He doesn’t ‘do’ relationships, okay? But obviously because our heroine is so different, so special (so like YOU, reader), he cracks and finds himself falling in love.

– He is witty and charismatic OR he is quiet and broody. Occasionally he will be a bit of both. (I know, right? So confusing.)

And that’s pretty much it. What they do for jobs, where and how they grew up, how many brothers and sisters they have… all that is left up to the writer and quite the creative treat it is too. Should he be Greek or Italian? Is she a brilliant solicitor, or a budding cupcake baker? Did her ex-husband die tragically or did he cheat on her (or both)? Oh the possibilities!

Quite how anyone can stomach 200 pages of these people baffles me. To be honest I’m usually bored of them by about page ten but maybe I’m just fickle. Now, if you’ll excuse me I have to go and have a blazing row about fuck all with my boyfriend while at the same time gazing at him sorrowfully from beneath my heavy lashes in order to demonstrate that I too have the passion yet tender vulnerability required to get inside the mind of a Mills & Boon heroine.



Writing a Mills & Boon novel – Part 3: Losing the plot

Writing a Mills & Boon novel – Part 2: Isn’t it supposed to be sexy?

Writing a Mills & Boon novel – Part 1: How hard can it be?


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