Skip to content

The One Essential Element

A couple weeks ago, I was contacted by a friend who had a friend whose middle-school daughter needed to interview an author. So she and I had a little zoom chat and she asked me a list of questions she’d prepared. This was one of them:

Is there any particular reason you developed your characters to act the way they do?

She had given me the questions beforehand, and this is what I had jotted down in response to that one:

They tend to take on a life of their own. Especially in my first book, they started out very differently from how they ended up because the more I delve into my stories, the more I hone in on healthy relationships.

I got to the end of writing down that little answer and went, “Whoa. That’s really true.” I hadn’t consciously thought that through before, but that really is the biggest reason for all the relationship honing and editing and reworking that I do. Sometimes I’ll write a scene that’s exciting, has lots of tension, is very dramatic, and might even be really well written. But then I (or someone else) will read through it and go, “Eesh, I don’t like the way this makes their relationship feel,” or, “He’s not really respecting her boundaries,” or, “She’s manipulating him.” And sometimes those things can be left in—so long as that behavior is called out and corrected in the narrative—but other times, I’ll just strip it out. Because I don’t just want my characters’ relationships to be fluttery and swoony; I also want them to be realistically long-lasting and based on more that just, “Ooh, she’s pretty. Wow, he’s handsome.”

If my hero is hot but treats my heroine like crap, that’s not gonna fly. But why? It’s not real life, so why is that so important to me?

Well, another one of this young lady’s questions was:

Do you think fictional characters influence our own character?

And the answer is: yes. Not always, of course. We can read about terrible people and we don’t become terrible people. But if you find a character you connect with, and that character is able to express an emotional reality that you feel and that resonates with you and your experience, then that can change your outlook and even the way you act.

If there is some young girl out there, and she’s in a relationship with a charming guy who showers her with love and attention most of the time, but once in a while he loses it and becomes emotionally or physically abusive, I don’t want that girl to read a book of mine and see characters who justify that kind of behavior and put up with it. Such dynamics are not normal or healthy.

Sure, my characters aren’t real people, but it’s hard enough to see and recognize good relationships in real life, I don’t want to add to the confusion by portraying unhealthy and manipulative relationships as romantic.

And it goes both ways. Men are not the only ones that behave badly in relationships. My first draft of Cloaked in Scarlet did not go over well with my alpha readers. In my head, Emeline was feisty, but on paper she came across as rude and dismissive. This left my readers wondering why Hunter put up with her at all. I had a lot of editing to do in order to be sure that the strong but very sweet Emeline that resided in my head made it onto paper.

The most obvious example of this contrast is Lorraina. Her relationship with her first love is, let’s say—passionate. Another word for it would be volatile. Those two both had their issues and they made each other worse, not better. In Missing Lily, it’s Lylin who watches their behavior and observes,

“It was a horrible thing to witness. I hated the realization that two people could care for each other and yet lash out with such viciousness, such biting cruelty. If it was this painful to watch, I couldn’t imagine what it would feel like to be that person, to experience that awful passion.”

Of course, I couldn’t just leave it at that. No matter Lorraine’s (or anyone’s) faults, we can always choose to be better. So I took it further, forced Lorraina to do some soul searching and growing up, and then put her in a healthy relationship. Lorraina and her first love were never going to have a happily ever after, but that didn’t mean she couldn’t have one with someone else.

In all of my books, I want to be crystal clear about what a healthy relationship looks like, and the worth of those relationships. That is the one essential element in my stories that I cannot do without.

Clean Romance Highlights

We have three NEW RELEASES this week.

Grace Worthington has given us The Inn at Wild Harbor.

Her first rule for a picture-perfect romance: Don’t fall for your best friend’s brother.

Cursed Kisses by Jenny Rabe.

Some people are cursed in love, but Rosie’s bad luck starts the moment her lips touches someone else’s.

Senator’s Son by Julie L. Spencer and E. E. Everly.

Mateo Cohen has no intention of having a vacation fling, especially not with the snarky editorial assistant who begs for his help to solve a mystery.
Published inCloaked in ScarletLorrainaMissing LilyPainting RainSaving MarileeTales of Winberg

Be First to Comment

Leave a Reply