Crucible: A vessel, usually of earthenware, made to endure great heat, used for fusing metal; a melting pot; fig: used for any severe test or trial.
When writing short series romance — around 50,000 words — there is very little spare wordage for subplots and secondary characters. The focus has to be on the hero and heroine.
In real life, people who aren’t living together tend not to spend that much time together. Even when they are living together they will be at work during the day and often doing their own thing in the evening (even if it’s only the ironing) and at the weekend. Life is, let’s be honest, mostly just getting through the week.
Life in the romance novel cannot be like that.
It will start at a moment of crisis. A point at which the lives of your hero and heroine are about to change forever. It can be as simple as getting lost, delayed or doing a good deed that gets our heroine into hot water. If you’ve read The Billionaire Takes a Bride, you’ll know how easily that can get out of hand! Or, as in my latest Harlequin Romance, Her Pregnancy Bombshell, it will be the moment is when the stick turns blue.
Whatever happens next should throw the hero and heroine together, confined by a place, or a situation from which they cannot walk away. Their crucible; the place where their feelings are put to the test.
They do not have to live in the same place or even be in the same country for the crucible to hold them together. In The Bachelor's Baby it took nine months of struggling against the whole idea of being a father for my hero to get it.
They never lived together, were most of the time in different cities, even at one point separated by the Atlantic, but the progressing pregnancy acted as the crucible. It was in the hero's head, he was thinking about it 24/7 trying to figure out ways to do what was right while not getting involved. My heroine told him he could walk away free and clear, no comeback. He desperately wanted to but his conscience wouldn’t let him. He was a good guy but having had a terrible childhood and believing himself incapable of fatherhood had to ease his conscience. He tried hard cash. She sent it back. He tried employing domestic help, she used it the housekeeper he sent to help out a family in real need. When he turned up to complain she told him – with absolutely sincerity – that he didn’t have to do a thing. She was perfectly happy going it alone and didn’t need his help. He couldn’t stand it!
For almost every minute of this book my hero and heroine were either together or thinking about one another. That’s what you need in a short series romance. If your characters are apart for more than a scene have one of them send an unexpected text, or leave an ansaphone message. A little jolt out of the blue.
In my latest digital release, Trouble in Paradise, my hero and heroine are stranded on a deserted island. They distrust and dislike each other but have to work together to survive. It’s the ultimate crucible.
Look at my covers. They tell you what the readers wants. The hero and heroine are together, close and that's the point. The total connection. I've read manuscripts where the hero and heroine barely talk to each other let alone spend time together or think about each other. There was one where the hero's golf clubs got more attention from the hero (and page time) than the heroine.
Your plot will dictate the crucible.
For a “dating the boss” scenario, you have the office. A crisis, not necessarily for the company, the boss's domestic crisis can be just as useful, can throw the hero and heroine together, Enemies or partners in an effort to stave off disaster are equally good - just as long as the feelings are passionate. An overseas trip can throw the hero and heroine together intimately in a situation where, with the desk is no longer between them, they will see one another in a whole new light.
The storm is a classic. Cut off, stranded, by the weather offers a great crucible but always remember that it’s the reason why your hero and heroine are confined in a mountain while a blizzard rages around them that is important. The storm is just the soundtrack to the drama being played out within the hut. Concentrate on why the heroine is desperate to get somewhere when a white out closes in and she has to take shelter. Why she ignored the weather warning. And why the hero is there. He has a story, too.
A journey across country. Shut up in a car with someone your heroine hates. or likes too much when he doesn't return her feelings. Does he know or is he oblivious?
A cause (keep it something local, something fictitious, not your own cause) where they are on opposite sides arouses passion, keeps them on one another's mind. The relationship can be anything, the man/woman who dumped them, an embarrassing schoolgirl crush that he teases her about, posh girl/poor boy made good. Something personal to lend an edge to the fight.
The important thing to remember is that the crucible is what holds them together, it's the emotion, the passion, that makes a story.
Liz Fielding on the web: