Wednesday, February 11, 2009
Preparing the Way for Strong Characterization
Prepare Ye the Way...
You guys know John the Baptist, right? Know him and love him?
I’m telling you, there’s a guy who tackled the big jobs and came through. John’s meals were vegan-friendly, very ‘today’, a fine blend of honey and locusts with a cactus milk chaser and the odd fish or two. He was a pescatarian's dream, LOL!
Here’s a ‘living history’ pic depicting John in the river.
Son of Elisabeth and Zacharias, and cousin to Jesus, John the Baptist made sackcloth and scratchy camel fur household words. Prada it ain’t, and the animal rights people would have a field day with his choice of apparel, but the guy made it work, right up until he was beheaded for speaking the truth. Expecting goodness. What was he thinking? That preaching change would win him an award???
And what's up with DaVinci? Um, hello???
Here's his artistic depiction of John the Baptist, undisputably a boy by all accounts.
Are ya' kiddin' me? Does this remind you of anything? Like "John" in the controversial "Last Supper" painting that got Dan Brown a hefty contract, notoriety and a boatload of money.
Or Mona Lisa??? I think Leonardo had issues and used them to feminize unsuspecting characters. Good heavens.
Now take Jesus. Totally cool, awesome, righteous dude. I mean, we’re talking God-made-man. He faced enemies, demons, liars, cheaters, tax collectors, lepers, snakes, vermin and snarky apostles. But he WAS God, so if this was a tennis match, it would definitely be: Advantage: Jesus.
As a mere human, John had the monumental task of preparing the way for his cousin, the Son of God. Sooooo not easy. To do that, he gave up material things (no plasma tv’s or Starbuck’s for our boy!), his family, his home, and lived the life of an itinerant preacher, an evangelist, a voice crying in the wilderness to fulfill prophecy.
His voice called like a beacon, his sacrifice was renowned, and from time to time he doubted, just like you and me, and he was noted for getting a little heavy on fire and brimstone rather than salvation.
But he did his job. He persevered and prepared the way.
Are you prepping for Valentine’s Day, the quintessential day for lovers? Planning a dinner, a dessert, an evening of romance?
Okay, if you’re a mother of small children (or any children!), your preparations are probably more pizza delivery than Chris Ruth Steakhouse, and your body-soothing lotion comes in a pink bottle from Johnson’s baby products, and if you can sneak a five-minute shower, you consider your prep time successful. I’m totally with you on that score. Not exactly the stuff romance novels are made of, huh?
Who didn’t love the scene from "The Notebook" where Noah takes Ally to see the geese, knowing she’d love the magic and magnitude of raw nature??
Or George Bailey, walking the late-night quiet of Bedford Falls, NY in borrowed clothes, offering to lasso the moon for Mary in “It’s a Wonderful Life.”
How about the way Bing Crosby sings “White Christmas” in Holiday Inn or White Christmas?
Be still my heart!
Old or new, vintage or modern, romance is in the heart, not the pocketbook.
(Although Richard Gere got a good piece of my heart when he left Julia Roberts with his credit card in “Pretty Woman”. So, okay, I'm plastic. I can be bought!!!)
Writing a romance isn’t as much foreplay as interplay. Prepping the way for our HEA ending comes from layering your characters, making the reader care about them, identify with them, and maybe want to be them.
Remember Sleepless in Seattle, when Rosie O’Donnell chastises Meg Ryan for being unrealistic? “You don’t want to be in love, you want to be in love in a MOVIE!”
Oh my stars, who doesn’t want to be in love in a movie? More to the point: how do we prep our characters to that level, to be memorable, approachable and believable?
Layering: Sure, you’ve all heard this, and you’ve probably read some great books on it, attended awesome workshops and delved into characterization websites, trying to create the perfect characters.
I think the perfect characters come from that heartfelt reality combo of situation, personality, conflict and timing. And the character I love most won’t necessarily be Tina’s favorite, or Mary’s favorite, or even make Camy’s list of should’ve, would’ve, could’ves.
And that’s actually good news. If all of your characters please the same people, you’re limiting your audience and that’s a yawner for sales.
I love Donald Maas’s “Writing the Breakout Novel” because it challenges an author (in words I can relate to, LOL!) to step above and beyond the usual to embrace the untried or unlikely. Using that strategy, characters come alive. If the reader recognizes the character as lovable or smackable, quaint or eccentric, you’ve achieved a level of success.
In Deb Smith's "Sweet Hush", Hush Thackery isn't a survivor because of some cataclysmic happening. No, Hush is memorable because her life MADE her that way. It was survive or fail, and she didn't see failure as an option. She had 'sugar skin', a teen pregnancy, shiftless family members, a two-timing husband and a God-given strong will that won out over all that.
The best story can get tossed aside if the characters don’t attract the reader. Think commiserate, empathize, sympathize, synthesize, hydrolyze…
Wait, that’s a science lesson! Wrong blog.
Your characters are who they are because of what they've experienced. Life throws us opportunities daily. Read the obituaries. Check out small town papers. Examine the characters that make up your village, town, or neighborhood.
Then put them in a book.
And then answer the question for the reader. I'm going to play with Julie's "A Passion Most Pure" for this exercise.
Why would Faith be attracted to Colin?
Okay, besides the obvious, LOL!
She's a helper; he needs help.
She wants to save the world; he needs saving.
And don't forget the wonders of physical attraction. Sensuality and attraction are God-given gifts and are a HUGE part of building memorable characters in a romance. Faith has kept herself constrained because of her faith and feelings of guilt that her twin sister died at a young age. That constraint is challenged because our rake Colin sees the woman within the girl and senses her awakening feelings for him
Their path is not an easy one, but that's what makes a good novel. A good novel parallels life because life isn't easy.
Don't 'help' your characters too soon. Mothers are especially guilty of this in their writing and it often separates the contest finalists from the rest of the pack.
Let them suffer. Show us why they suffer. Make them real and sympathetic. Or at least make us understand them if they're not the most likable of characters.
Prepare your novels with the same devotion you give your favorite recipes. Or a hot date. Think it through, layer it, add salt and spice, garnish with humor and gut-clenching feeling, then bake in a hot, (not tepid) oven for as long as it takes to evolve into the Happily Ever After we avidly anticipate.
P.S. Coffee bar is officially open! We've got hazelnut, amaretto, chocolate bliss, and plain old joe.
Grab a mug from the rack to your right. Muffins courtesy of Tops Friendly Markets!