Speaking of the elusive fan base I'm trying to catch, last weekend I had the, uh, "opportunity" to do a presentation to the authors of my local RWA chapter (http://www.utahrwa.com). Because I write Young Adult / New Adult (which, by the way, the teens are as confused as the rest of us on this new genre) I decided to use the interactive approach and implement a teen panel.
So what if you don't write YA/NA? You still have to know the character you're writing and in romance, especially, how they act/react to relationships is going to stem from their teens. How they manage their "beast brain" when emotions wipe out common sense and send them in a tailspin, more than likely, is how they reacted as teens.
The teenage years are all about change, drama, pushing limits and suffering the consequences, and the raw passion of all the "firsts" from love to heartbreak. During these years, your heart rules your head, and emotions ride close to the surface with a short fuse that causes immediate combustion when ignited. So if you don't know your character's inner teen, then you are missing a huge emotional chunk that makes your character 3-D.
When an alpha male throws up a wall around his heart, it's usually because there's still a bruise there left by the girl he gave it to, only to have her crush it in return. Write. That. Scene. Wiggle inside your character's emotional barriers and write their first heartbreak, betrayal, and how those raw, untamed feelings of jealousy and abandonment, fuels that inner rage that sneaks to the surface unexpectedly.
Do this for your villain, too. Even the most hated character has to have a redeeming quality to give your reader an emotional connection. Could his/her despicable behavior stem from an emotional event in their teens?
To show my theory, I "interviewed" each of my unsuspecting volunteers on my panel to set up their character. (Of course I conduct character interviews in the wee hours of the morning, so I donned my old fuzzy pink bathrobe to give the full effect.)
Basic questions such as favorite color (used for world building or giving your character a signature trait – always hot pink painted toenails); food (which a first response generally is their comfort food when they find themselves alone with emotional thoughts); music (this is what will be blasting on car speakers or in their ears when that fuse ignites, or in the case of an adult character, hearing a refrain from a past favorite tune brings on a rush of unexpected feelings—triggering the memory of something lost they now fight for); hobby or favorite pastime activity (which brings them personal joy and they can resort to when they need to work through problems or drama); and their method of escape (which is what they'll do when that dark moment arrives and they feel they've lost control—even adult characters will escape somewhere similar, or try and duplicate what they did as a teen to center themselves).
At this point, I've established a basic character sketch based on these simple questions. If my hero's favorite color is red, his food tacos, hard rock his musical preference, but plays a guitar and hikes to a waterfall near his house when he needs to shut out the world, I have a young alpha male in the making. He guards his insecurities beneath a tough exterior and keeps his soft side hidden.
My heroine's favorite color could be pink, her comfort food cheesecake, country music dominating her playlist, an avid ballet dancer, but when she needs to escape, she puts the pedal to the metal and leaves the world in a cloud of dust with skid marks. She's passive, driven or goal-oriented, and strives to please her parents. Her playful side shows in her music, but her suppressed disdain for preset boundaries and strict rules, shows a blatant rebellion in her aggressive driving.
Can you see the romantic setup? He's attracted to her outward soft, feminine tendencies that play to his dominant protective side, but he's the total opposite of what she's been "taught" to accept. The bad boy Daddy won't want near his precious daughter, and exactly what my heroine craves to fuel her inner rebel.
Their adult characters will easily play off each other, the forbidden desire established early on in background stories with characters no longer in their lives, but very much a part of their memories…memories full of emotions they'll draw from when they meet their grown-up counterparts.
I questioned my panel on family dynamics, social cliques, dating rituals, and what lines, if crossed by friends, ended relationships. Their answers deepened the character they became. We played around with scenarios of what would happen if Character A dumped Character B, then Character A went out with Character C – Character B's BFF. This created some fun "creative revenge" reactions and interesting perspectives on where to place blame.
I gave them 3 choices of dating preferences based on labels only. Boys: 1) cheerleader; 2) dancer; 3) school newspaper editor. Girls: 1) star quarterback; 2) musician (garage band – aka bad boy image); 3) brainy geek. Their responses were interesting.
Boys preferred dancer – not quite as intimidating as a cheerleader, but a step "above" newspaper editor. Girls – star quarterback won first, followed by the geek over the bad boy (this could be because a couple mothers sat in the audience?). What surprised my panel members was that their choice matched the character we'd established so far for each of them.
By the time I finished my presentation, I had six unique characters, a rash of possible love triangles, BFF betrayal, family drama, and Goal – Motivation – Conflict established. I could begin my story, knowing the part each character would play. If I were writing an adult story, when my characters faced romantic conflict, I'd know in the back of their brain they'd been transported to a different time in their lives when they faced the scenario for the first time, feeling all those emotions rush to the surface and influence their actions.
If you don't usually conduct an "interview" with your characters, try it. Not only does it help you get to know the character you're writing on a more intimate level, but it's lots of fun. Stirs the creative juices, and who knows what new idea may spark to either bring a so-so scene to life, or take on a story of its own. Either way, it's definitely worth the time.
If you're not a YA/NA author, experiment with finding out about your adult alpha male's first heartbreak or your heroine's first [orgasmic] crush. A trip down memory lane may bring out a side of your character that had been lacking, or breathe new life into a love scene to keep it from sounding repetitious. If nothing else, it will exercise your creative brain and give you a new perspective on the character who's taken up residency in your head.
Your challenge…write your own first love/first heartbreak. Then while those feelings are fresh, delve into an emotionally charged scene in your story, whether you're writing or editing, and see if it makes a difference. For such a small amount of time on our lifeline, our teen years still have a tremendous emotional impact whenever something zaps us back in a time warp. The same is true for your characters…and your readers. Food for thought.
Thanks for stopping by and enduring to the end of my recant. I appreciate your support. Hopefully, now that Designer Genes is in the final formatting phase before publication, I can be more present. June 1st is when I released Riley's Pond, so I'm hoping I can launch Jordan and Marli's story the same day (fingers and toes crossed).
Until then, I guess I'll just have to share this news….
RILEY'S POND IS A DOUBLE FINALIST IN 2013 BOOKSELLERS BEST AWARD CONTEST AND ALSO BEST FIRST BOOK IN THE YOUNG ADULT CATEGORY!! Seriously, I did not know this until I opened my email this morning. Any of you going to Nationals, please proxy cheer for me! I'm still in shock, not to mention ubberly intimidated. I'm going up against two of my own favorite authors, Kate McGarry and Marissa Doyle. No pressure….