Chemistry research- it’s not just a high school class

February 15, 2008 at 3:32 pm | Posted in hero, heroines, Meg, research, young adult | 1 Comment

Last week I talked about hotties and this week, since yesterday was Valentine’s Day (and since I’m horrible at research), I thought I’d continue along this vein and focus on chemistry. You know, that elusive quality between two people that catches your breath, causes a lump in your throat, makes you smile or touches your heart. It’s invisible, but you see when it’s there, and know when it’s not.You see it in the movies. The two main characters’ eyes meet and the screen comes alive; the temperature in the theatre turns up a notch. You forget you’re surrounded by strangers and find yourself holding your breath. Some random examples are: Kimberly Williams-Paisley and Patrick Dempsey in Lucky Seven, Jude Law and Cameron Diaz in The Holiday, Ashton Kutcher and his love interest in The Guardian.

On television, I live for The Office. The first few seasons, when Jim would gaze longingly at Pam across the room or when they would joke around. Ahhh. A shit-eating grin always spread across my face. And I feared all summer that their chemistry would not continue if they started dating (yes, sometimes I exert too much emotional energy into my entertainment world) as often happens (cite the Dave and Maddie fiasco of Moonlighting), but never fear, Jim and Pam are hotter than ever. I also noticed it last night as I watched the Masterpiece theater’s version of Northanger Abbey (and yes, I know for true Jane Austen fans, these versions don’t measure up). When Mr. Tilney smirks at Catherine Morland, a silly flutter goes through me. The two actors have that special something that brings a sunny day to normally dismal London (or Bath in this case). Or what about Sydney Bristow and Vaughn. Or Pacey Witter and Joey? The list goes on and on.

And in books, I’ve had my heart skip a beat as I read many novels. Nora Roberts is the queen of chemistry. Rarely does she write a book not swimming in it. Others noteworthy to mention are: Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight (yeah, I know, I continue to rave), Mildred Lee’s The People Therein (my all time favorite book as an early teen) and…

Chemistry between the hero and heroine is hard to come by. Usually I’ll watch or read something and I’m left feeling empty, that something’s missing. I don’t feel the characters or the story. I’m probably the only one in the world who’s glad McDreamy has moved onto Rose in Grey’s Anatomy. I think they have that special something. That extra fizzle that I never felt between him and Dr. Grey—wow, I can’t even remember her first name right now. That’s how forgettable their interactions are for me. LOL

And that’s the ultimate goal with your characters. You want the reader to remember them long after they close the book. You want them to be so lifelike and full of energy together, that the reader begs for a sequel and dreams of the characters.

How do you create this chemistry in your writing? Well, research. You watch those movies and television shows with your thesaurus nearby to determine the words to capture what you see. Or you write down the responses of the hero or heroine in the books and see how you can regenerate them (without plagurizing). Or you people watch- one of the best ways to garner information on human interactions.

<>As for my own research, I might elaborate Jessica’s grand idea of bridal research (Jess- I love this idea and will go with you anytime!). Since I’m stuck on the YA, maybe I will pull a 21 Jump Street and go undercover in a high school (when I walked the halls of one a few years ago, I was asked for my hall pass, so maybe I could pull it off). Or hang out at the mall or local dining establishment. Maybe that’s what I need- immersion in the world I want to build. And the world of YA is much easier to visit than a sci-fi fantasy. Or is it?



Hell has no fury like creating a heroine

November 16, 2007 at 10:32 am | Posted in character, heroines, Meg, writing | 2 Comments

I can create heroes with ease using general ideas of male beauty, sexy traits and redeemable negative qualities. Maybe this male ideal is based on an actor, a dream man or someone from my past (or present). Either way, I think heroes are not difficult to write.

As for heroines? Forget it. I struggle, I stick pens in my eye, and often I fail. Female protagonists have unique challenges that male ones don’t.

First, there’s the double standard in regular society that has to be fought. You know what I mean. Men who do anything to get ahead in business are viewed as determined. Women who apply the same activities? They are pushy and competitive bitches. Men who want to talk about their relationship issues? Sensitive. Women who ask “Can we talk?” Whiny and pains. Need I go on?

Next in the struggle to develop likable female characters is the catty issue. I will be the first to admit (and any woman who denies this out there is lying), all women have catty bitches hiding inside them (or have at one time or another). We judge. We get jealous. We compare ourselves to others. It’s not fun or nice, but we do it. Maybe we don’t vocalize our thoughts, but we have all looked at another woman at one point in our lives and hated her just because she had something we didn’t. I’ve done it. Not something I’m proud of, but hey, we’re all human.

So that being said, how do you create a female character that everyone will like? That someone won’t view as whiny, pathetic, bitchy or annoying? It’s not easy.

Take Sadie, the twenty-six-year old protagonist in my women’s fiction novel. Sadie has been through tragedy times three by the time we meet her in an airport on her way to the Caribbean. She hates flying, the plane’s delayed due to a hail storm and she’s about to lose her mind. Then she encounters a stranger, sex personified, in the gift shop and during their interaction something pushes her over the edge. She starts laughing. Hysterically. Tears streaming down her face. Inability to talk and potential hyperventilation. You get the picture. We’ve all been there, right? Hell, I do this on a regular basis when stress overcomes me. It’s either laugh or scream yourself into the funny farm.

Now, when I had two people read this chapter, I received two different reactions. The first reader felt Sadie’s reaction made her a caricature, immature and socially awkward. That she should be able to handle a conversation with an attractive man and what was her problem? The second reader understood that Sadie’s breakdown was due to her internal struggle and not a reflection of the presence of the hot hero. He could’ve been a ninety-year-old woman and Sadie still would’ve lost it.

So needless to say, the first reader didn’t like Sadie in the first three chapters. Second reader did (although she read the whole book to know Sadie’s evolution). And there’s the struggle. How do you create a female character that everyone will like? How do you balance a broken heart without creating a pathetic wimp, strength without coming across as a pushy bitch and humor and wit without being accused of being abrasive?

So I ask you, loyal readers of the blog, who are your favorite heroines and why do you love them? And to the men out there, is it easy for you to write a heroine and why (or why not)?


Kick Butt – The Internal Heroine

November 14, 2007 at 11:15 am | Posted in Bria, character, heroines, writing, young adult | Leave a comment

It isn’t until her girlish crush grows into loving him as a woman that my heroine realizes she can’t stay. Up until then, Faela’s been along for the ride – fighting back with little rebellions while secretly hoping the Brennid will fall in love with her.When he does, she sees that, with he’s flaws and betrayals, it just might not be worth it.  The most kick-butt thing my heroine does is leave.

What? She ran away? Doesn’t that make her passive?

No. She left him. And there is a world of difference. It seems like if the heroine isn’t steering the world around her, making everyone dance to her tune, saving the world from Armageddon, forcing the hero to her will, or trying to save Great-grandpa Joe’s independent newspaper – she must be passive.

I love to read about heroine’s who struggle to play within the rules of their society and win. Who know that it’s self that defines their world as much as actions.

If Elizabeth Bennett had grabbed the family carriage and rushed to London we would have all thrown the book down. But, for some reason now, we expect a heroine to play by in this worlds and today’s rules no matter when or where she is.

To me, that isn’t overcoming the odds, it’s stacking the deck.

Often, especially in literature, we choose to see things in the lowest, easiest common-denominator.

She left = running
Love = conquers all
People = good OR bad

Faela, if we jump to Tami Cowden’s site again, is a combination of Waif and Spunky Kid for most of the book (wait till you meet the new Faela in book 2!)

But, no matter how much of a metamorphous your characters go through, she’s still the same person. Every time Faela grows and her personality shifts a little, I ask myself “Is this true to her or am I creating an ideal for no defendable reason?”

Yes, I want her to overcome things. Yes, I want her to grow as a character. Yes, I want you to love her like I do. But I want it to be REAL.

Luckily, I write YA and for some reason teens haven’t lost this sense of inner-struggle as the ultimate prize yet. They still understand that being true to yourself or compromising who you are is THE defining issue in life.

Once again, let’s talk about Elizabeth Bennett – she doesn’t compromise her beliefs or self to marry Darcy to ‘save the family farm’ so to speak. Not until she sees her own flaws and his own goodness does she come to understand her own heart.

And so, I ask you – Who are your favorite heroines and what makes her worth loving? 

Tell me, I’m always looking for a new character to love!

Go Write

Girl Power!

November 12, 2007 at 8:36 am | Posted in heroines, Jessica, life, movies, writing | 1 Comment

My HALO friend once asked me what it was that I wanted out of life and on that same day Publishers Marketplace announced the latest deal news for Susan Elizabeth Phillips. (The news was a whopper!) And I said to myself, Ah! What better way could I explain my lofty hopes and goals than to use SEP as my ideal example?!

But the more time I’ve had to think about it, the more I have kind of morphed my perfect ideal to where it’s a mash-up of two fan-worthy women — my ideal would be to become equal parts SEP and equal parts Nancy Meyers.

Nancy Meyers directed the movie, What Women Want, and is the screenwriter and director for movies such as Something’s Gotta’ Give, and The Holiday (among others).

I just love the stories that both of these women tell. And there’s a line in the movie The Holiday that prompted me to write this post on this week’s topic, heroines.

In the movie, Kate Winslet plays this unlucky-in-love woman named Iris and so as not to spoil the story for those of you who haven’t seen it (I won’t mention any names – ahem- Bria) I won’t divulge too much information other than to say that Iris doesn’t know just how much of a gift she is and it’s not until a mentor character accuses her of being a supporting character in her own life that she starts to work to come into her own.

I loved that analogy.

That phrase has become kind of a timely mantra for me, whether I use it to think about the heroines in my WIPs or, more recently, in relation to the entry I posted last week on motivation.

While the WIPs can be tough cases to crack, there are at least tools at our disposal to help identify the starring roles that our heroines can play.

Tami Cowden has a number of great resources, as found in the Heroine Archetypes section of her web site and in her book, The Complete Writer’s Guide to Heroes and Heroines. If you get stuck in this aspect of your writing, consider this craft book a must-have.

Don’t forget the Classical Heroines from Mythology, and while reading over the content on this web site, the following phrase caught my eye:

Being skilled with the weapon is not the only requirement to being a brave heroine. Some of these are women who show great courage, through ability to survive great hardship, make great sacrifice or face death unflinching as any male hero.
Timeless Myths

When I read this phrase, I can’t help but think that these words apply to all of us women – the words themselves are timeless. While we may not be out there fighting the physical clash one would normally associate with battle (as our brave women in uniform do), we do endure other untold battles of our own. And when put in the context of writing, these words take on a new level of meaning . . . at least for me.

I can see where our weapons are our words and voices. To write a book takes courage, but to share something so personal with the hopes of shoe-horning it into the publishig machine takes a set of brass body parts. To complete such a project often takes great sacrifice and the ups and downs of the business can create as much hardship as they do joy.

And that’s one of the reasons why I so admire Susan Elizabeth Phillips and Nancy Meyers. These women have figured it out and have made it work for them. In relation to my entry I posted last week on motivation, I think the base of my frustration is that I haven’t yet figured out what it is for myself.

But it’s been funny – the odd kind – how over this past week I have started feeling better about the prospect of things. Maybe it’s because I’ve been working like a fool on my NaNo pages each day. Maybe it’s because I got some brutal and unexpected closure on a painful issue I hadn’t realized I’d left open. Maybe I have started coming into my own and am now looking for my starring role. Maybe I am taking steps in the right direction and am closer than ever to realizing what it is.

All I know is that I think of Susan Elizabeth Phillips and Nancy Meyers as heroines because they have worked so hard and been so successful in creating their own starring roles. And I want to be just like them.

It only takes, on average, ten years to be an overnight success and every step in the right direction counts. (Getting Unstuck)

So whether it be in your writing or in your real life, get your girl power on this week!


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