The Adventures of Isabella Black - Theme
The knock on her door startles Isabella out of bed. It’s the middle of the day but she stayed up all night chatting with her publisher and reworking last-minute kinks. Sunlight peeps through her closed shuttered blinds. She stubs her toe on the way to the door.
“Ah!” She hops on one foot, opening it to see Eddie standing there. He looks at her messy hair sticking up in the air with his brows lifted and a smirk twitching at his lips. “Eddie? What are you doing here?”
“Thought I’d return the favor and knock you up out of your peace and quiet, and barge into your home too like I own the place,” he says, pushing past her as she scoffs at him. “Yeah, it’s my turn to criticize your space.”
She folds her arms and leans back against her closed door, clicking her tongue. “Well, good luck with that. As you can see, I’m a neat freak.”
“I mean, you’re pretty spot on with the freak part.” He purses his lips and raises one brow at her as he drops down onto her futon.
“Ha!” She mocks and turns her attention to what he’s holding. Her eyes light up and her mouth falls open. “Is that what I think it is?”
He groans, nodding with his eyes closed.
“Aw, did you write the two hundred words and couldn’t wait to show me?” She hurries over and squeezes his cheeks as he grimaces at her. “Look at you, you’re all excited.”
“Yeah, yeah. Ouch.” He pulls his head away from her. “Bricking it is more like it,” he says. “I wrote a lot more than two hundred words, but I’m not sure if anything I wrote is any good.”
“With everything you know? I doubt it. Give it here.” She wiggles her fingers at him as she sinks down on the opposite end of the futon.
“Ah, I don’t know.” He pulls back the large envelope holding his manuscript from her reach.
She bats her eyes slowly at him, sticking her hand out, palms up. When he doesn’t hand it over, she rolls her eyes. “Hey, you’re the one who came to me. I’m guessing it’s because you want to share what you’ve written.”
“I might need your help. I’m not sure if it’s rubbish,” he says.
“How am I going to help you if you don’t hand it over?” She asks, snatching the envelope from his hand.
He lets her have it and his skin burns as she begins to take the manuscript out. She starts skipping to where she left off and before she can begin reading, he puts his hand out.
“It’s not done yet.” He covers the page with his hand.
“Okay?” She removes his hand from the page and continues to read while his belly bubbles with nerves. With his head back against the deep purple futon, he shuts his eyes and tries to zone out and pretend she’s not there, reading and feeding on his embarrassment. A lifetime passes before she says something again.
“I can’t wait to see how it ends!” She beams.
He tilts his head toward her as she hands it back to him. “That’s the problem. I don’t know how to end it.”
She smiles and pats his head. “Don’t worry about it, you’ll figure it out. You probably need to take a break from it and come back.”
He shakes his head. “It’s not that. I’m stuck again. Like the last time. I need your help.”
She studies him and sighs. “Okay, let’s brainstorm the theme and see what we can come up with.”
When he looks at her with his brows pulled together, she pulls back. “You have a theme, don’t you?”
He scratches his head. “Ah. Kind of. I guess. But I don’t know what it is.”
She grins. “What do you mean you don’t know what it is? Then why are you writing the story?”
“Because I had an idea, it sounded fun and I wanted to see where I could take it.” He shrugs.
“Okay, and that idea is the theme. In the end, what do you want your character to achieve? What is the character trying to prove?” She asks.
He groans. “I don’t know.” He throws his hands up in the air.
“Of course you do. There’s a reason you’re writing the story and it has to do with more than it just being a fun idea. Let’s take it back to this line. I think the theme writes itself here; ‘She was a rich supermodel stepping out of a luxurious car, but there was no smile on that beautiful face and probably never was.’ What were you trying to prove when you wrote that line?”
“I don’t know. Maybe that all that glitters isn’t gold?” he says.
She smiles. “There you go. There’s a theme in that, isn’t there? But is it the main theme?”
“I don’t understand,” he says.
She clears her throat and takes a breath. “Okay.” She thinks about the best way to explain it to him. “Everyone has a battle they’re struggling with. Ideas that compete in their heads and impact what they believe in, right? There’s always something challenging their belief. Like, let’s take me for example. I live in this building even though it drives me crazy, it’s in a noisy neighborhood, with noisy neighbors and dirty hallways, even though I can afford to live elsewhere and you can tell by my color coordination and organization skills that I’m a—”
“Freak.” Eddie interrupts and she smacks him upside the head.
“Hey.” She narrows her eyes at him before continuing. He grins. “...that I appreciate nice things.” She finishes. “So why do I stay here and drive myself crazy when I can just leave? Because of my inner beliefs and conflict. See, staying here, with all its discomforts, inspires me. It’s what I’ve known and I’m comfortable in the discomfort, afraid that if I leave it, I’ll lose all inspiration. In my head, there’s an argument between inspiration and comfort, and whether being comfortable will lead to a lack of motivation and complacency, resulting in writing crap, heartless stories.
"My theme, therefore, would be something simple like, ‘In order to be inspired, you need to be uncomfortable.’ That idea comes from my belief system. My story would involve setting out to prove that to be true or even untrue. The characters I’d write would live versions of that argument, with a goal to prove that statement wrong or right, along the way learning lessons that will either strengthen or change their belief system.”
“Hm.” He nods.
“What about you? What is something you believe without a doubt? Two arguments that you struggle with inside your head? Other than trying to make your mind up about whether or not you should watch TV all day or clean your apartment?" Isabella squints at Eddie.
He sucks his teeth at her and rolls his eyes. She elbows him, playfully. “Come on.”
“I don’t know. I guess hard work doesn’t equal success? Lots of people who don’t work hard see a lot of success and have a lot of money, while many people who work hard can barely make ends meet. So, why should I work hard when I don’t have the opportunity to earn more than enough money, when I can lie on my ass and be the same level of broke? Or why not do something that’s going to be worth my time to earn money? Why can’t I lie on my ass and earn money like some ‘successful’ people do?” He asks, all bothered.
She smiles. Isabella can tell him what he thinks and that many of those successful people who look like they’re doing nothing probably worked their asses off to get where they are, or maybe he’s right and they do get handouts. Maybe it’s not just a one size fits all thing. But that’s not her job. “Ah, see there’s passion in you. Look at you! You’re turning red.” She mocks. Isabella continues, “That’s good. So in your story, you could run with that thought and challenge that belief system through your characters. That’s how you’re going to figure out how the story ends, by understanding what your characters believe and what they want to achieve. Right?”
“So by what they want to achieve, you mean their goals?” he asks.
“Look at you! All sharp like a razor’s blade! Who said you weren’t smart?” She asks.
“Nobody said that.” He wags his finger at her.
“Ah, see. Now I don’t know about that.” She teases.
“Hey, weren’t you the one that came to me for my ‘insight’?” He responds and she laughs.
“Alright, you got me there. So are you good now? Do you understand?” She asks.
“I think so.” He scrunches his face and she turns to face him with a smile.
“Okay, so once you’ve established your theme, which is the argument you’re trying to prove, you have to create characters that are living their lives around that theme. And no, they can’t all agree with the argument you’re trying to prove. Where’s the fun in that?” She rolls her eyes. “Some can agree, some can disagree, some can be on the fence about it. You’ve already established your inner conflict with the theme, you’ve got to present outer conflict as well, including characters whose belief systems contradict your character’s belief systems.
"Situations and obstacles that threaten that belief. You have to challenge the argument, set characters against each other, and see who wins in the end. Give them goals to achieve and let them achieve them and in the end, figure out what argument you want to win, what you want the readers to understand about that theme, and your characters. What do you want them to take away from your story?”
Eddie’s face lights up and he spins around to look at her. “So, in this story, I guess the argument I’m trying to prove is that ‘Money doesn’t buy happiness.’ That’s my theme.” He jumps up.
She nods. “There you go. Now, you’ve got to figure out a way to challenge that argument and see which way you lean. Whether you want to prove that to be true or false…” She says.
Eddie rubs his chin. “And what challenges and goals I want to give my characters to prove the winning argument in the end!” He grins. “I’ve got it!” He marches toward the door without a backward glance.
“Well, you’re welcome!” She yells at him as he closes the door behind him. “So much for gratitude.” She mutters, getting up from the futon and being frightened out of her wits when the door bangs open again. “Eddie! What the hell? Are you going to break the damn door off?” She shrieks and he begins to laugh at spooking her.
“Sorry. I just want to make sure I understand,” he says. “Can you go over it one more time?”
She sighs. “Hold on.” Isabella returns with one of her best-selling books from her bookshelf. “Here, it’s a short read and people seem to enjoy it,” she says. “I think the character in this book represents everything I just said. He lives his life by a very specific belief system and though it is challenged along the way, he spends the whole time trying to prove to himself and the world that what he believes is true. Writing a character to a specific theme doesn’t have to be as overt as this, it can be more subtle, but if you want a clear understanding, I think you should read this book.”
“Ooh, looky here! Author Copy. Fancy!” He muses, flipping it open. “Aw come on, it isn’t even a signed copy? How else am I going to prove that I got this book from the one and only best-selling author Isabella Black?” He teases.
Her cheeks redden. As much as she loves the praise, she doesn't want him to see her like this.
“Will you take the book and get out?” She nods toward the door.
He grins, waving it at her on the way out. “Thanks for this. I’ll be back tomorrow, yeah?”
She groans, closing the door behind him with the lock this time, before hurrying toward her bed, jumping in it, and snuggling into her pillow.
Written by Vanessa Millwood
A published Jamaican writer who speciaizes in romance novels, especially contemporary, curvy, reverse harem, dark reverse harem stories.
The Adventures of Isabella Black: The Proclamation
Isabella jumped up from her writing desk and runs toward her front door. She’s re-drafted her character. She had his physical traits down to a T. Manuel Folgers, built like a brick house, because of his heavy football training. His dark complexion was smooth and cool. He didn’t keep a beard, because it got itchy beneath his helmet. He had deep brown eyes, like chocolate swirls that anyone can easily get lost in. His hair is the texture of wool, if he ever grew it out. But he likes it low cut, brushed so that it appeared as the waves of the ocean. He ate as clean as possible when it’s football season and he’s out on the field. Whenever he’s not playing football though, he indulged. He got down. So, he had a body for the field and a less toned one, off the field. His nose was narrowed down the middle and fuller on the sides.
Manuel’s lips are even fuller and his teeth flash white though they’re a little crooked from the beating they take. Nevertheless, it didn’t take away from his outright gorgeousness and he’s never short of attention when he hits the town at night. Isabella knows why her character went to the club, popping champagne, and flashing his suits and jewelry after a championship. She’s aware of why feminine attention pleased him when it comes at him in loads, yet scares him when he’s one on one with someone who genuinely cared for him, and who he genuinely cared for.
She knew his positive character traits, his negative ones, his wants, and his needs. Isabella knew the very core of him. She’s mapped out a character board so that when she writes about him, the reader can visualize him as well as she can. Still, she tried to steer away from trying to paint the character to the very vision she had of him in her head, because then, she risked falling into ‘telling’ the reader what to think about to character and how to view him.
Instead, she gave just enough details to paint him vividly, showing as much as possible and sprinkling in a bit of ‘telling’ when necessary, in order to allow the reader to draw their own conclusions about Manuel Folgers. A vision of him that wasn’t limited since the beauty of a story was the engagement of the imagination which can go as far and as wide as the reader.
Isabella was satisfied with her first draft, but it’s usually better to have an extra set of eyes. And she knows, if there was one person that she can rely on to tell her the truth, it’s good old blunt Eddie.
“Eddie! It’s me!” She pounded on the front door, shifting from foot to foot, awaiting the opening of the door. The anticipation was like pins and needles. She hoped he was in.
“Eddie!” She knocked again.
Just then, the door opened and a young woman around Eddie’s age opened the door in a T-Shirt. She must be new. Isabella has never seen her around the apartment complex before. “Who are you?” she asked, scratching her blonde, fizzy hair.
Um. Isabella felt odd for intruding. But not odd enough to leave. She was too desperate. “Hi. So sorry to disturb you, but I’m looking for Eddie,” she whispered. “Is he there?”
The girl gave her a once over scrounging up her nose before shouting over the shoulder. “Eddie, there’s an old lady here to see you!”
Old? Well, excuse me. Isabella wouldn’t exactly call herself old. Forty could be the new thirty. Ugh. Maybe that’s something an old person would say. Anyhow, what did she care what a young, twenty-something, slender, and pretty blond think of her? She just wanted feedback on the second draft of her first chapter.
The young woman walked away, leaving the door open and soon Eddie appeared, putting his shirt on. “Oh, Isabella!” He grinned. “I was wondering which old woman was at my door. Thought it was the old lady I helped with her grocery down the hall.”
“Nope. Just little old me,” Isabella said wagging her eyebrows and extending the pages of her manuscript to him. “I need your opinion. Do you think this is ‘boring’?” she asked, smiling and really selling the last word.
“I thought I told you to call first,” he said, cocking his head. “I’ve got company.”
“This is important,” she said.
“So is this,” he responded in a ‘you know what I mean way’.
“Please, Eddie. You know I’ve only got a few days left till launch day. After that, I’ll never bother you again and you can get back to fraternizing with your friends.” She nodded toward the girl on the couch.
Eddie groaned. “Alright, fine.” He shook his head. “You’ll owe me for this one. Just give me a minute.”
He pushed the door up for a moment, while Isabella stands outside tapping her fingers against her legs in impatience and anticipation. Moments later, the door opened, and the blonde was wearing whatever she must have come over here with. A pink bralette and bell-bottom jeans. She flashed a look at Isabella, and curled her lip before she walked down the hall with a swing of her hips.
Eddie pushed his head out to watch her walk away. He groaned some more and bite his lip at the loss of a good time. “You owe me big time for this,” he said, opening the door wider for Isabella to come in.
Relieved, she clapped her hands together and walked past him into the apartment with a wide smile on her face. The only thing she gave a crap about at the moment was making sure her book was ready for publication. It would make no sense to publish something readers wouldn’t want if she hoped for success.
“So, what did you say you want me to do now?” he asked.
“Tell me if it’s boring,” she droned on with a roll of her eyes, and perched on the handle of his dirty couch.
He grinned and reclined into the couch. She watched him. It’s like her eyes are transfixed on a disaster and she couldn’t look away. It hadn’t gotten any easier watching him read her work. Holding her breath, she waited and waited. He even turned the page and continued to read. His eyebrows jumped up at a certain point and he smiled to himself. What was happening?
Minutes of silence dragged on. Well, it’s at least silent on the outside. Her head filled with questions. It wasn’t until he raised his head that she became conscious of breathing again.
“I love it!” He grinned. “It’s good.”
Whew! An audible breath escaped her in a rush, and she smiled. “Oh, thank goodness.”
“Yeah, I really like how when you tell in certain parts, you do it to save time in places where a detailed description isn’t necessary to the story. I love that when you show, it’s in order to enrich my experience. Like when you write, ‘He stepped out of his flashy BMW, the chirp of his alarm following him as he walked past the water fountain in his front garden. His house flashed bright against the floodlights that fill the exterior of his newly constructed and freshly built home. Stepping inside his massive front door, his shoes echoed against the sparkling white tile as he removed it. The house was filled with extravagant and modern furniture, paintings, large screen televisions, a game room, a huge pool in the back, a jacuzzi upstairs, and multiple en suites. He was ‘balling’. It was what he always dreamed of, yet the dream come true still failed to fulfill him. He couldn’t put his finger on it, but as packed full as this place was with his favorite things, there was a coldness to it. An emptiness. Except for his housekeeper who left in the evenings, he was alone.’
“You didn’t have to describe the flashy BMW in detail for me to envision it. In that instance, telling was completely okay and it didn’t take away from the story. I was still able to imagine it, even if a little color would’ve helped. You provided just enough detail when you showed me the house to involve my various senses. I could walk into the house along with the character and you trusted me enough to form my own vision of the place, while engrossing me into the mind and heart of the character. I could conclude from the mention of a housekeeper that the sparkling tiles were a result of her spotless cleaning which opened up my sense of sight, but also engaged my sense of smell. Clean floors have a smell to me. So, does a clean house. I can feel his inner conflict in that paragraph, of having achieved everything he’s ever wanted, yet having that numbness of unfulfillment, the ache of loneliness. I loved it.”
As Eddie spoke, there was a tug within him that was like being pulled into the words on the page in a way that allowed him to connect with the character in ways he never expected to connect to someone who lived such a contrasted life to his. His voice reflected that in heightened pitches and Isabella watched him in delight. Her mouth hung open in awe. His passion magnetized her to him and she needed to know more about the way he viewed the world.
“Now, let me see your writing,” she said, smiling after thanking him.
His eyes flew open and focused on her for a few seconds before falling. His cheeks turned a subtle pink and he removed himself from the reclined position to reach for the remote to his television.
“Eddie,” she said.
He doesn’t respond. Instead, his eyes were glued to the screen as he flipped through the channels.
“Well, lookie here, it looks like he’s suddenly gone deaf,” she teased, and she watched him shake his head and grin.
“Eddie…” she sang. “Oh, Eddie…”
“Oh, Eddie! I think your friend’s returned. There’s a knocking on the door.” She gasped.
Eddie turned with eyes wide and his tongue basically hanging out of his mouth as he stared at the door.
“Would you look at that? It’s a miracle. He can hear again,” she teased. He grinned.
“Look, my writing isn’t half as good as yours is,” he said with a sigh, focusing his gaze back on the TV.
“Oh, I find that hard to believe with your insight. Besides, yesterday, mine wasn’t half as good as it is today. So, let me read it. Maybe I can help. And I promise to be just as blunt to you as you were to me,” she said with a big old smile.
“You aren’t going to leave until I show you something, are you?” he groaned, turning the TV off.
“Nope!” she said, trying to get as comfortable as she could on the stained couch.
“I can press charges, you know. "
“Go ahead.” She shrugged.
He rolled his eyes and gets up from the couch, returning seconds later with his laptop. Eddie spent a few seconds finding and opening his file before handing it to her. “There you go. Amuse yourself.”
“Where are you going?” she asked when he gets up and moved toward his door.
“I’m not going to sit here, while you read what I’ve written. It’s so cringe."
“If I can endure it, so can you. Sit your ass back down,” she said, with a cock of her head, while scrolling through the pages. “Hmm."
Hmm? Eddie wondered. Someone only hmms that many times if they come across something that was worthy of scrutiny. Was his work that bad? His stomach groaned.
“Ah, excellent use of the eyepatch technique here,” she said with an ‘ah’.
“The what?” he asked, wondering when he ever mentioned an eyepatch in the story he wrote.
His brows crinkled when she looked up at his confusion and grinned.
“It’s a technique we use to describe something similar to the paragraph, you pointed out from my chapter earlier. You do the same thing here. ‘She was a rich supermodel stepping out of a luxurious car, but there was no smile on that beautiful face and probably never was.’
"It basically means hinting at parts of the character’s life that isn’t perfect. A rich supermodel, like Manuel, my rich football player is assumed to have everything going for her. She’s the standard of beauty, successful and aspirational. But, there is something about her that if people knew about it, they probably wouldn’t want to trade lives with her, you know. Or at the very least, it alludes to everything not appearing as it seems.
"Just like there’s nothing wrong with an eyepatch and if someone must wear it. It doesn’t take away from someone’s character and their worth or physical attractiveness. But if given a choice, you probably wouldn’t want to have to be obligated to wear an eyepatch if you don’t have to. Because that eyepatch is necessary to cover up some part of you that must not be exposed. It’s the part of that’s so sensitive that whether the character is aware or unaware of it, they must protect it at all costs,” Isabella said.
She giggled as she continued to read and Eddie's grin spreads across his face before falling away as he questioned the reason for her giggles.
Isabella glanced up at him and must see the worry across his face, because she clarified it for him. “Her little brother is really something, isn’t he? The way he rolls his eyes at her when she speaks and mimics her when she turns her back is hilarious. I love the use of action here to show the little boy’s snide nature without telling us that he’s snide. His actions speak for themselves."
Eddie’s sunken shoulders raised as his chest puffed up. Maybe, she’s just being nice, but whatever the case, it feels nice to hear that his work isn’t complete shit.
“You could use some help in the grammar and editing department though. Whoo whee!” she said with a head tilt before grinning at his aghast response. “This is good, Eddie."
“Thanks.” Eddie nodded as the tightness in his chest loosened.
“But where’s the rest of it?” she asked, handing the laptop back to him.
“I’ve been stuck,” he said, shutting the laptop and putting it aside before reaching for the remote again. She snatched it from his hand as he examined her audacity.
She waved the remote at his face. “Tomorrow, I expect two hundred words from you."
“Tomorrow? Don’t tell me you’re coming back over here tomorrow, he groans. I’ll…um..I’ll be out."
She relaxed her brows and stared at him with pursed lips. “Well, I’ll come by whenever you get home.”
“I uh, don’t know when that…” he started to scratch the back of his head.
“Eddie! No excuses. If you don’t start applying yourself, how do you expect to reach the success you dream of? You need to start or at least, finish what you start writing.” She handed him back the remote and walked out of the apartment as he stared at her in disbelief.
Written by Vanessa Millwood
A published Jamaican writer who speciaizes in romance novels, especially contemporary, curvy, reverse harem, dark reverse harem stories.
The Adventures of Isabella Black: The First Flame Part 1
If Isabella Black doesn’t find another editor in time, her entire launch is going to be a huge flop!
“Drats and marbles!” She grips her long black hair, huffing and puffing as she comes off yet another call with an overpriced editor after her editor copped out at the last minute with only one week remaining until Launch Day.
Sure, she is a self-published author, but she’s planned for everything to go smoothly for the moment she drops her book. Her cover designer has done a brilliant job, she’s contacted book influencers and worked with a marketing genius to create an eye-grabbing ad copy, she’s been on her promo game for months, getting people hyped for her new book. She had booked her editor several weeks in advance, calling them for updates.
Only to be met with promises of delivery and then to change the terms and conditions at the last minute before dropping out.
Once one part starts falling apart, the whole foundation crumbles. Isabella's stomach clenches and burns as she tries to figure out a solution, walking around her messy open-plan apartment with papers strewn across the floor, her bed messy, her glasses on her pale face, and her uncombed ponytail flopping about on her head.
She likes to be organized. She likes when everything is going according to plan which is why she plans everything in advance, but once something happens outside of her control, her whole life is flipped upside down.
She’s spent the past few days trying her best not to freak out, convincing herself that the problem is easily fixable. Except it isn’t because finding an editor with only a few days remaining until launch day means that they’re charging extra on their already high prices for fast delivery. She’s running out of options and she’s desperate. This is supposed to be her hit book, the one that’s supposed to get everyone talking.
The only other person she knows who might be able to connect her to an editor is Eddie Madden, the hunky muscled twenty-two-year-old with a ‘live and carefree’ type of attitude. He is an ‘I’m young and have all the time in the world’ wannabe writer that just moved into the apartment across from hers. Meanwhile, she is thirty-six, nearly forty years old with gray hairs and a clock that just won’t stop ticking, reminding her that time is running out and she’s still not the renowned writer she’s been working toward becoming for the past decade.
Somehow, she's only managed to be second best all the doggone time!
If he’s her last hope, she might as well just crawl up under her blankets and hide away in her apartment until people forget about her existence. She throws her soft pale lavender-colored blanket over her head and gets in the fetal position trying to quieten her racing heart when behind her bedroom wall she can hear her other neighbors starting another argument. Aw crap! Not again! If they couldn’t stand each other so dang much, why didn’t they just leave each other?
She bangs on her soft pink paper-thin walls. “Hey, shut up over there! For the love of—” she startles back when a bang bounces off the wall next to her face.
“Hey, why don’t you mind your own business?!” the woman bawls out in return.
“I’ve been trying to do that, but you just happen to be unable to go one solid day without yapping your jaws like one of those annoying little mouse-looking dogs!” Isabella screams back.
“Well, you’re just gonna have to deal with it like the rest of us. You don’t hear us complaining when you’re in there talking to yourself like a psycho!” the man’s voice echoes.
“I’m not talking to myself! I’m brainstorming!” Isabella returns.
“Well, go brainstorm somewhere else!” the man shouts.
“Why don’t you go argue somewhere else?!” Isabella responds. “I don’t know why I put up with this,” she mumbles. “You know what, I might just do that and get the heck out of this gutter filled with sewer rats like you!”
“Why don’t you say that to my face?!” the woman’s voice yells back.
“Because your face would send me running to the hills,” Isabella says before throwing her blanket off her and hissing as the woman continues arguing and turns her attention back to her original victim.
She can afford much better soundproof walls in a well-to-do neighborhood, but she’ll leave when she damn well pleases. Not when they say she must. It’s not the first time she’s gotten into an argument with the two idiots, but for as long as she’s lived here, it’s never escalated past exchanged shouts that leave her throat burning at the end of it. Maybe for all her organization obsessions, she loves a bit of chaos deep down.
She’s certainly taken inspiration from her noisy neighbors for characters in her novellas, but for all their drama, the characters they’ve inspired have just managed to give her second place in writing competitions.
She pushes her feet into her fuzzy pink bedroom slippers and gathers up the papers strewn across her floor, taking the time to organize them, page by page, and marching towards her door.
If Eddie's her only chance, she might as well. It’s better than being locked into her apartment with Heckle and Jeckle next door. She walks two feet outside her front door and bangs on Eddie’s door.
Written by Vanessa Millwood
A published Jamaican writer who speciaizes in romance novels, especially contemporary, curvy, reverse harem, dark reverse harem stories.
The Adventures of Isabella Black: The First Flame Part 2
Eddie’s watching a comedy on TV with his hand in a bowl of buttery popcorn, laughing to himself. His legs are propped up on the footrest in front of the couch he got secondhand from a friend.
The AC’s broken again, so he’s got the glass window looking out onto the beautiful view of even more apartment buildings propped up with pieces of wood he salvaged when his hand-me-down bed broke. It forced him to scrounge up tips from his bartending job to get a bed. His shirt is off, because he’s in his own home and it’s as hot as hell.
He hears the knock on the door and freezes, taking his time to crunch his popcorn, afraid that the crackling in his mouth is as loud as he fears. The popcorn all of a sudden feels too dry as it scrapes against his throat. He gulps, wondering if it’s the landlord stopping by again to ask for the rent. If he stays quiet, maybe he’ll think he’s not home. Except for the TV playing far too loud. His choice to live here is based on the fact that it’s the most affordable place he could find. But well, that new bed delayed his rent.
Eddie’s not fussy though. As long as he has a roof over his head, food in his stomach, electricity to watch TV, and water to wash his body; he’s chilling.
He grabs his remote to gradually lower the volume on his TV as the knocking persists.
“Eddie, I know you’re in there! Come on, open up. I need your help. I’m desperate.”
A rush of air escapes his lungs. Oh, thank goodness, it is just Isabella. “Just a sec,” he groans in return. Dragging himself from the couch and to the door, he opens it and walks back to his couch.
Eddie turns the volume back up to a decent pitch as she looks around in hesitation before locking the door.
“What’s up?” he says, dipping his hand back into the popcorn with his eyes fixed on the screen.
She pulls her eyes away from him as if she’s caught him on the toilet or something. “Can’t you put on a shirt or something?” she asks.
He crooks a brow at her at the perceived audacity. “Did you want something, Isabelle?”
With her eyes focused on the window and the state of the place, she grimaces and then reminds herself that she can’t judge him, what with how her place is looking at the moment.
She doesn’t sit down because she’s not planning on hanging around, she just acted on impulse fueled by the need to run away from the shrieking balloon faces next door who only exacerbated her panic about her upcoming launch.
“You don’t happen to know an editor, do you?” She assumes if he’s got aspirations to be a writer, he must know someone, anyone.
He bursts out laughing at something on the TV as if he hasn’t heard her. She lets out an exasperated sigh.
“Yeah, Tyrel does some editing stuff,” he says, before turning off his TV and facing her, licking the butter from his fingers. “And before you ask me, yes, by editing stuff, I mean he’s a professional editor.” He completes her thought before the words even leave her mouth. “He lives downstairs. He has a bunch of different jobs.”
He removes the light from her eyes. She swears to herself, under her breath. One roadblock after another. By the time she was through, she’d have enough roadblocks to build a wall.
“Maybe I can help,” he suggests. “He’s taught me a thing or two. What’s up?” he asks, eyeing her manuscript.
She clutches it closer under her armpit. “I don’t think you can,” she says.
“Why not?” he asks.
“Because I need a professional editor to help me improve my book by the end of the week for my launch. No offense, but I don’t need a novice that’s just going to set me back time-wise. Thanks for your time,” she says.
“But as you said you’re desperate, right? And I’m assuming that you wouldn’t have banged my door down looking like you’re on the verge of a mental breakdown if you had a line of editors waiting at your door for you to pick and choose from. Come on, what can it hurt?” he says with a shrug, outstretching his hand and wiggling his fingers at the manuscript. “Besides, I think I’m the perfect person for the job. I read a lot which means I buy and consume A lot of fiction. Who better to ask for help with improving your book than someone who is part of the regular buying population?” He raises one dark brow and looks at her with wide brown eyes.
He’s got a point. What could it hurt? It’s not like she was going to walk out of his door and bump into an editor and he hasn’t mentioned a fee. Ugh, what the hell. “Fine,” she says, moving the manuscript from underneath her arm to her fingers. “But don’t get butter all over it.” She scrunches her nose up. He wipes his hand in his pants and shows her his hands. Really? She stares him down until he surrenders and goes to the kitchen to wash and dry his hands on a dish towel.
“Better?” he says.
“Yup, you’d be surprised how much better cleanliness is,” she says, darting her eyes around the apartment.
“Hey, I clean. And behave, I don’t walk into your apartment criticizing it and I’m doing you a favor,” he reminds her.
Again, he’s right and she lets her tense shoulders drop. “Sorry,” she says and hands him the manuscript.
He grabs it, practically skipping as he flops back into the couch, ready to read it. Her belly hurts. Still, after publishing several novellas, she gets nervous being in the same room as anyone reading her book. Isabella likes being out of the room for this part, but well, it’s already too late as she sits on the sofa handle. She’s biting her nails as her heart pounds, wondering what he must be thinking and she witnesses the excitement fall from his eyes within five agonizing minutes. He closes the manuscript and puts it on the sofa handle where she’s perched before turning the TV back on.
She shakes her head in confusion. “Hello?” she says. “That’s it? You’re not done.”
He yawns. “It’s boring,” he says, quite frankly without any hesitation.
She gasps out loud at his rudeness and the thunder rumbling in her chest. She grabs her manuscript up, hurt and offended. “I should’ve known you wouldn’t take this seriously,” she says, but doesn’t move to get up as the criticism leaves her temporarily paralyzed. She finds herself staring at her manuscript, flipping through the pages and re-reading what she’s written. Boring? Where? How can he say that?
Her shoulders slump forward as his words challenge her self-esteem. Does he think it’s boring, because he has too short of an attention span to be entertained by something other than badly scripted mindless ‘comedy’ on the TV, or is his opinion a prelude for what’s to come? Will other readers think the same thing about her novel? If so, she’s doomed!
She rounds her shoulders up and pushes past her crushed ego and the sting in her throat to ask him, “What would you change about it? How would you make it less…boring?” She struggles with saying the word.
He pauses as if considering before turning the TV back off. “Well, for starters, I don’t care about the character, because I don’t even know who they are,” he says, turning to her.
“Well, duh. You haven’t read past the first couple of paragraphs,” she says as if he’s Dumbo.
“Exactly,” he says and she wonders if he’s playing a Jedi mind trick on her. By the blank look on her face, he continues, grabbing her manuscript. “Manuel Folgers was a football player with a couple of trophies…” he reads. “So?” he says. “Good for him. But he ain’t no hot shot. I don’t care about him, so that first sentence doesn’t hook me. What is this? A coming-of-age story?” he asks.
“It’s a romance novel,” she says, furrowing her brows.
“A romance novel? So why should we care about him being a football player? Why is that the first thing you think of mentioning? Look, I know it might not look like it, but I enjoy reading a good romance novel here and there.”
Her eyes grow wide in disbelief as she tries to hold back a snicker, trying to imagine him curled up in bed with a romance novel for comfort. He rolls his eyes at her. “I don’t know what you’re laughing at, you’re the one with a novel that could bore people to tears,” he teases.
“Hey, don’t be rude. I worked hard on this.” She folds her arms across her chest.
“I’m sure you did,” he says, softening and patting the seat beside him. “We’re gonna be here for a while.”
She opens her mouth to speak, but ends up shutting it as nothing comes out, before moving from the handle of the couch to sit next to him.
“Look, regardless of the genre, your readers need to be hooked by the first sentence and even if they can forgive a faulty first sentence, the follow-up sentences have to be fire. Look at this.” He points at the paper in horror.
“You start listing his championships like people give a damn. They don’t know who this man is. He’s not this big shot people are so interested in seeing. He’s boring from the start. He has no substance. You’ve got to create him,” he says.
“That’s just the first sentence, smartass,” she interrupts him.
“So? Why should I want to read past the first sentence if nothing is happening to make me interested to read more?
Regardless of genre, it’s all about action. Life is about movement; constant movement. The action never stops. When one thing happens, it affects a result, and another action is born from that result, and so on and so forth. You’ve heard about logline theory, right?” he asks.
She nods. “Of course, I have. What do you think I am? An amateur?”
“Then why haven’t you used it?” He shakes his head in a ‘knock knock, who’s there?’ motion at her. “It’s basically laying out what you need to do on a silver platter. We need to establish who the character is from the first sentence. Is he the protagonist or the antagonist? What happened before we got to meet him in the story? And no, we don’t need a whole backstory about what happened, Ms. Talks Too Much.”
She gasps. “How rude!”
He continues without reacting to her. “We just need to know something happened. Start the story as late or as early as possible, depending on how you look at it. Whatever happened will act as the inciting incident and our character will be dealing with that inciting incident, reacting and or acting on it. So, you’ll end up creating a conflict in the first sentence and everyone loves a conflict. We’re all constantly drowning in conflict, internally and externally and when we see a character who’s going through something, we’re drawn to them because we can sympathize with them or empathize with them. Or ridicule them to make ourselves feel better. That’s what hooks us, we care about them.”
He’s speaking so passionately, Isabella is staring at him in utter shock, but even more, she’s impressed and inspired, motivated by his passion and his deep understanding.
“Okay, I hear you,” she responds excitedly, dropping her pride to participate. “So, for Manuel, I could probably start it off by saying something like ‘his past has made him afraid of love,” she says, reaching for the manuscript. “You got a pencil?” she asks him.
“Yeah, somewhere.” He gets up and goes into his room while talking. “But it’s still too vague.” His voice is muffled in the bedroom as he shuffles around his bedside table drawer, grabbing a pencil and pausing on the way out the door to grab a couple of his favorite romance books off his bookshelf.
“I think it’s good,” she disagrees. “It establishes in the first sentence that he’s the antagonist.”
His voice is clearer once he steps back into the living room. “How?” he asks. “He’s afraid of love, he could be the sweet guy who's afraid to get his heart broken and needs to be treated with care. Why would that paint him as the antagonist?”
“Well, maybe it creates intrigue. So it doesn’t establish him as one or the other off the bat… fine. But it can create empathy since it touches on a relatable experience, interesting the reader enough to continue to find out whether or not he’s the protagonist, looking for love, but just afraid to get his heart broken or the antagonist rejecting any genuine display of love and treating a potential partner like crap. That’ll help them to start empathizing with the protagonist before they even meet them. Besides, it’s not an action novel, it doesn’t need to start right off the bat with an inciting incident and the whole logline theory, pitching antagonist vs protagonist,” she says.
He mulls it over. “Maybe not, but it still needs more than just that vagueness.” He flips open one book, then another, and another. “Look at these, notice how the writer achieves deep points of views within the first sentences. They’ve started with conflict, giving us a little more detail without loading us with too much unnecessary info,” he says.
“Info is necessary to paint a more vivid picture of who the character is and what their lives look like,” she says.
“Yeah, sure. But not too much. Unless it’s like fantasy where you’re creating a whole new world, founded only by your imagination that exists in the history of never that readers will need every single mind-numbing detail about in order to envision even just a spec of it.
"Okay, then, maybe the reader won’t mind info dumping, but with romance, readers just want the writer to shut up and get to the point, to get into the juicy nitty-gritty as early as possible. They don’t want to hear what you, the writer, think; they want to know what the character thinks. They want to be involved in the drama, because their own love lives might be messy hair and trash or they want to be swept away into comfortable delusion about a love that’s too good, that seems almost impossible, but somehow it is.
"They don’t give a crap about Manuel’s football career. Give them the rest of the info when they care about the character. Tell them what he’s thinking, why he’s thinking it, what he wants, why he wants it, what’ll happen if he doesn’t get it, what he’s willing to do to get it,” he says.
She interrupts Mr. Know it all. “You don’t need to tell the audience everything that’s happening, you can show them too,” she counters.
“You’re right!” He bounces on the sofa chair without realizing it as he turns to face her, fired up by the creative process. “So, show them. What does he do as a result of his internal conflict about the ideas of love, commitment, relationships vs. his career; like there’s a theme you can go with. You should be able to establish even the theme from the first sentence. One sentence holds so much power and so much responsibility,” he says.
“Okay, spiderman,” she says.
“Spiderman? What are you forty?” he asks.
“Ouch! Yes, nearly!” She erupts in laughter. “You know kid, I think I underestimated you.”
“People often do.” He shrugs.
She nods and becomes a bit more serious, feeling the need to guide him. “But for real, thanks for this. You should write your first book, you’re very insightful and talented. And I know you might not think it after all this, but I’ve got a few best-sellers under my belt. If you ever need help to get started or with advice on publishing, marketing, or storylines, I’m not too shabby myself, I’d be glad to return the favor.”
His cheeks become pink with discomfort as he laughs, turning away from her and gathering up his books. “I’m glad I was able to help,” he says, all of a sudden sounding shy and unsure of himself. “I’ll think about it.”
“Yeah, do it. Get started, trust me. Thanks again,” she says, newly inspired and filled with so many ideas to rewrite her first chapter and she isn’t even mad about it. On her way out the door, she turns. “Hey, once I’m done rewriting this, you won’t mind me coming back over here sometime tomorrow for you to look at it again for me, will you?”
He smiles. “My door is always open.” He turns his eyes into slits. “Except, when I’m not home. Or I have company. You know what, call first next time.”
Written by Vanessa Millwood
You can check out her ghostwriting services on Guru, contact her through Linkedin, or by email at email@example.com.