Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Writing Wednesday: Keeping Her Real - How to make your heroine a swanky Miss. Normal

This week's post follows upon the characterization topics started in weeks past. Lol, I can talk for ages about characterization, it's one of my favourite parts of writing - coming up with new, believable people (as if you hadn't noticed that yet, eh? *grin*). That being said, I wasn't always good at it.

One rule I always tried to follow was: to keep my heroines real. Characters in general, but since I write mostly women's fiction, it's the heroine who's my focus. In fact, at some points of my writing, I have tried to come up with a heroine that fits the mould but who, at the same time, was different. I thought I had it right, but I was wrong. Why? Because I polarized her too much. It happened on Storms in A Shot Glass (my third published novel, but the first under the then-pen name of Nolwynn Ardennes). The quiet, self-effacing PA I wanted to create turned into a wallflower who even melted in the brocade wallpaper so much she was, well, effacing.

So what did I do afterwards, other than let the story sit for a few months until I could understand where I went wrong and how I could make it right?

During one of my endless streaks of inspiration that come when I'm either doing the dishes or ironing (oh yeah, I'm a domestic goddess. Not!!), I had my answer. My heroine wasn't real!

Duh, you'll go, you already knew that. But it did come as a lightbulb moment. In trying to create a 'different' heroine from what is usually done in the realm of the quiet secretary/PA, I had gone to an extreme, and my heroine was no longer human. She also whined too much and made no move to get a grip on her life. Very pathetic.

That got me thinking - why isn't she real? If this gal, Jane, were a real gal I met in the streets of London, what would she be like? I knew she had to be quiet, self-effacing, giving the impression that she was meek and docile. And that's where the key lay - it was naught but an impression, a facade she presented to the world. In the confines of her flat, she is a different woman. She doesn't particularly like living alone or being alone, but it doesn't bother her much more than this. You are after all what you make yourself out to be. Jane tries to fill her life up with her job, and that isn't hard to do when you know her boss is really an immature man behind the facade of the successful CEO. Consequently, Jane doesn't have much time to eat, so she wolfs down microwave-able frozen food when she remembers. That's for the day to day life - this shows her as a 'normal' human. Now as to what made her this way - foray into her backstory. What shaped her into this self-effacing creature? I got another layer as to how to make her real and how to project the person she has become.

In short, it was GMC + Backstory = start of a human being

I could tell you that I got to know her. You could do this too for your heroine. Think of yourself as a woman (if you're a man, think of the women you know). Read Cosmo and get tips as to what makes a woman tick. Get the overall impression you want her to convey and build this into a logical explanation. Then go into her past and make this logical explanation even more logical by shaping this woman through her past.

You then end up with a believable starting point for your heroine.

Another good strategy would be to invent yourself a best friend who has the characteristics you want your heroine to have. Now, nobody's perfect, and tone her down to someone who could actually exist, someone you could bump into at the Pilates class, at the grocery store, at the corner deli.

In far-reaching cases, say you are writing about a heroine who had a bout with anorexia. Yet you know next-to-nothing about the condition so would you be able to project the existence of a former anorexic truthfully without knowing what it's like? Do your research. Find women who are at this stage in their life and talk/interview them. These little tidbits they'll provide you will be the real deal, and will make your heroine all the more realistic.

And then also, there's your biggest asset - you! What doesn't cut it with you as a reader? When you're creating a heroine, think like a reader. Would this woman get a chance if you picked up her story? Think also like a real person. Would such a character really exist? And if no, what makes her unrealistic? Use this then to make her believable.

I'd love to hear about how you go about creating a believable heroine! feel free to comment!

From Mauritius with love,



Unknown said...

Zee, I loved loved this post. I think you explain characterization really well. One thing I have realized is that what makes a character real is DETAIL. Sometimes we (at least I used to do this) focus so much on the greater plot that we forget the little details that shed light on the character. What does she eat? Drink? What are her little habits/hobbies? How does she think about little things and big things? We have to stop long enough to shed light on these things without making the story seem stilted. We have to weave in these details to create that feel, the feel of a real person. Thanks!

Zee Monodee said...

Thanks Angela. You're right indeed - details paint a stronger picture.

Too often writers skip little details woven in that would've taken their character from a generic cut-out to a fully living and breathing person.

Thanks for the tip! Hugs