Back in the summer, Lorinda wrote a terrific blog post about the old adage, Write what you know. She talked about how that advice applies to external phenomena (Navy SEALS! The Amazon!), but primarily to writing about emotions. We all know what it feels like to lose someone we love, to feel disappointed or betrayed, to feel shame and sorrow and joy.
But now I’m in a situation where my heroine is aiming squarely for a story goal that I never (consciously) aimed for in my real life: She really, really, really wants to get married, which I never really did. She doesn’t want to marry just anybody, though. She wants Mr. Right to be well-off, good-looking, and on his way up the corporate ladder; I wanted a guy who’d talk all night and if he had a low-wage job, we’d figure out how to get by. She’s already turned more Mr. Not-Quite-Rights than she can count; I turned down exactly one.
What’s worse, she’s my opposite in other ways. She colors her hair. She does her nails every week. She rarely goes out with a man for more than two dates. She spends hours sorting and hemming and fretting about her clothes. She wouldn’t be caught dead in a garden or breaking a sweat. She hates spiders. She’s unafraid to speak her mind. She’s not self-conscious at all and is confident in all social situations.
None of that is me.
So my question as an author then becomes, How do I write convincingly about a heroine who wants something for herself that’s so very different than what I’ve ever wanted for myself and who is a completely different person? Whose coping mechanisms are alien to me? Whose ways of getting what she most desires are those I’d feel too self-conscious to even think about attempting?
Once I got over my resistance to the fact that, yes, this is actually who this heroine is, I had to figure out how to embrace all the facets of her that make me squirm. The effortless feminine charm. The perky sass. The bold flirtations. The double entrende-laden dialogue. At this point, only the Write or Consequences gals can tell me whether I’m hitting any of those notes or am terribly, painfully off-key.
As I was puzzling over my heroine last week, it occurred to me that she and I are not all that different, nor is either of us very different from any other human on the planet. That’s because, even though we may want life outcomes that are near-opposite to each other, the truth is that our desire to achieve our dreams has a lot of the same characteristics:
- Whatever we want to achieve, we think about. A lot. Incessantly.
- Every interaction with family and friends is peppered with references to our goal. She’ll talk about how she’s going to achieve it while I talk about being afraid I won’t, but the goal is still front and center.
- If we’ve failed to achieve a goal in the past, we don’t want to talk about that. The more important the goal is, the less we want to discuss our failure.
- We have dramatically different reactions to conflict arising from our pursuit of our goal — she’ll stand toe-to-toe to give someone a piece of her mind while I may go silent — but the point is that we have reactions. Neither of us is made of stone.
- Our reactions stem from the same place: Fear we won’t get what we want. (That and fear of losing something we have are the only two kinds of fear, anyway. Everything else is a variation on one of those two themes.)
This little exercise of finding the commonality within experiences of desire helped me see my heroine as someone who isn’t the completely alien creature I’d originally believed her to be. How I hated the fact I’d written Evie in the first Promise House novella as a sassy, pert, feminine, stylishly dressed flirt!
But now I’m seeing her as a wonderful teacher, helping me learn to get into another kind of woman’s skin, to see the world through her eyes — just a little — and to honor her way of living her life.
And I bet, if I look closely enough, I’ll find a little bit of me in there, too. Just not in the nail polish.
Sandra K. Moore has been writing one thing or another since she could scribble on a Big Chief tablet. A former Silhouette Bombshell author, Sandra has given up (temporarily) the kickass heroine and is now writing from her softer side for the self-published Promise House series. This novella quartet explores the journeys of four young women finding their way — and remaining true to themselves — through the social expectations and turmoil of 1950’s Houston.