As Andrew Lloyed Webber Wrote, “Love Changes Everything.”
I’ve just returned from 10 days tutoring creative writing at the University of Southern Queensland’s McGregor Summer School, and one of the exercises I had the nine students undertake revealed something rather surprising.
One topic the four men in the group had most trouble with was: How do Characters Fall in Love? We had previously covered Characterisation, in which I stressed that a reader must care about your characters, and this would come about because they liked them and related to them. I explained the various aspects of falling in love such as initial attraction, chemistry, emotional connection, mental connection, liking each other, caring, respect, growth, and we discussed what attracted one person to another. I then gave them the following exercise on showing attraction and character traits (keeping in mind that the probability was that these two characters would fall in love):
When Lisa finds her old childhood friend, Jane, pregnant and homeless, she immediately invites her to stay. Jane says her ex-boss, Dan, is the father of her baby, but won’t tell him as it was only a one-night stand.
Lisa is furious that Jane has been left destitute. She has always been very protective of the younger woman whose abusive father often caused her to take refuge with Lisa’s parents.
Without Jane’s knowledge, Lisa confronts Dan. His initial obvious attraction to her is soon squashed when he thinks she is out to blackmail him about Jane’s baby, and he denies having slept with Jane.
Write this scene, subtly showing Dan’s attraction to Lisa and the attraction Lisa feels for him, but which she denies to herself.
Keep in mind that although Dan is angry, he cannot be seen to be callous or arrogant.
When it came time for them to read out what they’d written, I was astounded that the four male writers had written Dan as obnoxious, arrogant, uncaring, and every other negative description I could think of. All of them had Dan thinking that Lisa was a “bitch”, something that went against the character profile a reader would expect of a hero.
The women, on the other hand, had created a character more in line with the brief given in the exercise, but with only one suggesting that Jane might have been lying about Dan being the father.
After much discussion, in which the men realised they had completely missed the purpose of the exercise, I suggested that because they were decent, honourable men, it was obvious that they had instantly been protective of destitute, pregnant Jane, and therefore assumed she was telling the truth and Dan was to blame.
It was interesting to see this difference in the viewpoints of the male and female writers. Having grown up with four brothers, and as the mother of two sons, I was well aware of how male thought processes differ from females’, but it made me wonder if writers realise that they have to discard their own personality traits and inhabit the persona of their character.
It’s the ability to ‘become’ your character that enables a writer to create characters that live in a reader’s mind long after the last page.
This came home to me forcibly when I was writing my first romantic suspense, Dance with the Devil. In one scene, the villain goes to cut out the tongue of the young man he has just knocked unconscious. I was so “in” the minds of both these characters that I couldn’t stand the stress of this scene and had to stop writing it for a couple of hours. I also left the scene at that point and didn’t describe whether the villain continued with this deed or not because I believe readers have wonderful imaginations and I didn’t need to overwhelm them with details. It’s a spoiler, I know, but I have to let you know that the villain changed his mind, but I won’t tell you why!
One reader told me that she was so affected by that scene that she couldn’t read the book for the next three days, but then she started again because she wanted to know what happened to the characters.
In my latest novel, Fatal Flaw, my two main characters, Mark and Julie, have been friends since childhood, but thirteen years apart has changed them in ways that create problems for their developing romance. Although they now realise that they have always loved each other, they have to find out if the people they are now are still worthy of that love. So that provided a different challenge to writing the “getting to know you” phase of a relationship.
Whatever the circumstances of a developing romance are, if the writer hasn’t succeeded in making the reader care about her characters enough that she wants their love to win out in the end, she (or he) might as well be writing a grocery list.
Sandy is the author of six romantic suspense novels, the latest of which, Fatal Flaw, is published by Clan Destine Press. All her novels, including Romantic Book of the Year finalists Dance with the Devil and Until Death, are available as ebooks from Amazon and Clan Destine Press. You can find out more about Sandy’s books at http://sandycurtis.com/blog/