What’s the one perfect way to develop a manuscript? In this post, we’re looking at one author’s process: romance author Brenda Margriet.
Brenda Margriet writes savvy, slow burn, contemporary romances with ordinarily amazing characters. In her own ordinarily amazing life, she had a successful career in radio and television production before deciding to pilfer from her retirement plan to support her writing compulsion.
Readers have called her stories “poignant,” “explicit and steamy,” “interesting, intriguing and entertaining,” and “unlike any romance you’ve read before” (she assumes the latter was meant in a good way).
You can listen to our conversation with Brenda on The Empowered Author Podcast.
You may recognize something of yourself in Brenda’s story. She always wanted to be a writer but her practical parents directed her towards finding a career that would actually pay the bills. So, she looked for something that would involve writing and embarked on what would become a successful career in radio and television production. Still, she used her time off for writing, even though she never finished the books she had started.
It was a Christmas present from her husband Mike that prompted her career as an author: he gave her a laptop and said, “Sit down and finish the damn book.” This led to her first novel, Mountain Fire. Since then she’s written and published nine books, her latest in the timeless seasoned romance sub-genre.
Why did she choose romance?
Brenda likes reading for recreation: romance, of course, but also biography, mysteries and sci-fi. What draws her to all these stories are the relationships: her favourite mysteries, for instance, are ones where a relationship grows along with the mystery.
Another reason for choosing romance as a genre was, as Brenda calls it, “the newbie mistake of thinking that writing a romance would be easy.” However, she soon found out that it’s actually much more challenging to write about a relationship and keep it interesting for 80,000 words.
Brenda Margriet’s approach to develop a manuscript
Brenda starts from the premise that in a romance novel, the two main characters must be absolutely the worst person for the other. They don’t have to be opposites—in fact, two very similar characters may butt heads much more than two characters who are opposites.
So, Brenda starts her story ideas with her main characters. “If I have an idea for a female character, what kind of male character is going to be her worst nightmare? And how do I get those people together?” She puts them in a situation where they can’t avoid each other. But the storyline needs drama, so she’ll create something that keeps the two characters apart to make the ending satisfying. Brenda also adds a mystery or suspense plot because the external conflict helps along the internal conflict. In Richly Deserved, for example: “When an antique painting reveals mysterious documents concealed behind its frame, Titus and Claudia unite in a hunt for lost riches–a pursuit that takes them into the remote hills surrounding the fabled gold rush town of Barkerville.”
Real life inspiration
Then there’s also the inspiration from real life. Brenda says that she loves to hear how people met because, “You can’t make up some of those stories.” She often looks at other people’s relationships and asks herself, “Why does that work for those people? I would kill that person a month in if I were living in the same house with them, but these two have been together for thirty years. How does it work for them?” Brenda writes the heroines that she’d like to be, or that it would be fun to be, and then she gives them the heroes that she wouldn’t want.
Plotter or pantser?
There are two kinds of writers: plotters and pantsers. Plotters are meticulous pre-planners, some having spreadsheets where they list every scene before they start writing. Pantsers—from ‘fly by the seat of their pants’—just start writing and figure it out as they go along. Some even write disparate scenes as they think of them and then move them around into a sequence later, adding text to link them into a story. Brenda sees herself as a pantser.
What about theme?
While she’s writing her first draft, Brenda isn’t thinking about them. It’s more of a daily word quota to write and move the book forward. It’s when she starts her rewriting that she then identifies the theme.
Each of her books has its own theme, and there’s a theme that binds all of Brenda Margriet’s books: accepting who you are. She likes to write about smart women who, through the way someone else loves them, learn to see themselves in a new light.
Making trope work for her manuscripts
Trope is, as Brenda puts it, the skeleton that the story is framed on. It tells you how the story is going to develop. For example, with the friends-to-lovers trope, the characters won’t be angry at each other at the beginning. Instead, they’re going to be friendly and that will grow into something more as the book goes on.
While critics use trope in a negative way to say, “Well, this story has been done a million times,” romance readers especially like trope: they’re voracious readers and know what they prefer, so trope helps them choose whether or not this is a story they’d like to read. In fact, romance readers tend to not like it if the author veers from the specific trope.
Using familiar settings
One of Brenda’s books is set behind the scenes of a reality TV show filmed in Vancouver, British Columbia. She drew on her television production experience for this one. However, her books are usually set in Prince George, Northern British Columbia, where she lives.
Brenda says it was a kind of shortcut: she knows the area and wouldn’t need to do too much research. On the other hand, she’s proud of the area where she lives and wants to celebrate it. She loves going to places and being able to make the connection with a book she’s read, so she hopes that her readers will find a connection with Northern British Columbia too: either because they’d like to see what the area is like or because they grew up there and would like to go back.
Is there one perfect way to develop a manuscript?
Brenda Margriet shared her ‘one perfect way.’ The ways are as many as there are authors. But the bottom line is that there is one perfect way to develop a manuscript: your way.
Learn more about Brenda Margriet