so good, they make me better

As I was reading The One You Really Want by Jill Mansell, I felt a sense of dread. I didn’t fear the fate of the characters because, even though the author put them in several formidable and embarrassing situations, I’m a fan of conflict and was confident she’d resolve everything to my satisfaction in good time. And it was also not because the plot was awful, the characters undeveloped, the pacing slow, or the dialogue stilted—exactly the opposite. The sense of alarm was a result of reading a fabulous book by an adept storyteller who, as far as I was concerned, did everything right. As an author, too, all I could think about was my own work in progress and how it was all wrong. Not all wrong, but not quite where it should be or where I wanted it to be. I spent the weekend modeling myself after Mansell—not imitating her style, copying her plot, or anything quite so nefarious, but spicing up the dialogue (Mansell is a master of dialogue), beefing up the humor, cutting out extra words, and fleshing out the characters as I’m sure she did painstakingly while writing The One You Really Love. I’m only on the first draft and my projects always improve with each revision, but even at this early stage, I know it is better and I owe it to Jill Mansell.

Theoneyoureallywant

This exercise got me thinking about other consummate authors who have unknowingly helped my writing.

 

For instance, Emily Giffin has taught me that even in light women’s fiction, characters don’t have to be all good or all bad. The main character, Rachel, in Giffin’s debut novel , Something Borrowed, managed to be likeable even while coveting (and sleeping with) her best friend’s fiancé. Giffin wrote the character in such a way that the reader experienced Rachel’s conflict right along with her. Rachel had loved Dex long before she basically threw him in Darcy’s lap. Giffin did the same thing with Ellen in Love The One You’re With (my favorite of her books). Ellen’s happily married to Andy, but is still drawn to Leo, the first man she truly loved (the one who broke her heart and whom she never quite forgot) when he comes back in the picture. Giffin does not encourage infidelity in the novel, but she creates a character many can relate to even if they are too ashamed to admit it. Ellen is human, not evil. Giffin strikes this human/flawed/likable balance with each and every novel she writes and it’s something I’ve kept in mind when writing my own novels where, as anyone who has read them knows, the characters are not perfect. Most specifically, my character Maggie in How Do You Know?  is in love with her long-term boyfriend Doug, but has her doubts he’s the one and desires time to figure things out before she makes a lifelong decision that will affect both of their lives. Maggie isn’t uncertain because she’s a selfish person, but because she can’t help it. Most human beings can’t control where their heart goes and I (along with Emily Giffin) don’t think fictional characters should have to either.

lovetheone

 

Another author I admire for her craft is Rainbow Rowell, who I consider to be my biggest author crush. I adore everything about Rainbow’s novels, from the quirkiness of her characters, to the swoony-worthy yet innocent romantic elements in her books, to the original worlds she creates. What stands out to me the most are the interactions between her characters, especially the ones who are romantically involved or at least want to be. Rowell has such a unique way of describing how the characters feel about each other, and it always feels very personal and intimate to me as a reader. In Landline, for instance, main character Georgie has this to say about her husband, Neal, in the first one percent of the novel: “When Neal smiled, he had dimples like parenthesis—stubbly parentheses. Georgie wanted to pull him over the breakfast bar and nose at his cheeks. That was her standard response to Neal smiling.” Reading that description, I knew instantly that Georgie loved Neal without being told. The characteristics that Georgie loves about Neal are very particular to him. Georgie loves Neal’s ears. Ears that were “a little too big, and they poked out at the top like wings. Georgie liked to hold his head by his ears. When he’d let her.” This description is specific to Neal and only Neal as opposed to a trait which could be used to describe just about anyone— he had beautiful eyes, full lips, a great butt, etc. Because it is so particular, it makes me believe the love Georgie feels for Neal runs deep. Rainbow Rowell does this consistently in her books and I love it! I squealed with delight when one of the teenage beta readers for my upcoming young adult novel, Kim vs. The Mean Girl, compared my book to Rowell’s Eleanor and Park. I can’t bring myself to agree, but this blog post has inspired me to be mindful to dig deep like Rainbow does.

landline

I’m sure there are others, but these three authors are currently at the top of my author-inspiration list. What about you? Whatever the activity, who inspires you to be better?

Thanks for reading! To return to the FICTION WRITERS BLOG HOP on Julie Valerie’s website, click here: http://www.julievalerie.com/fiction-writers-blog-hop-apr-2016

 

likeable “unlikeable characters” in chick lit starring Jane Frank & Giveaway

The winner has been chosen – congratulations to SusieQ – you have won an ecopy of my first novel, Just Friends with Benefits!  Thanks for playing all 🙂

 

“Somehow, rather quickly Jane became that friend who you love, but drives you crazy along the way.”

Jane Frank, the main character in my novel, A State of Jane, is a twenty-six-year-old woman who has had a pretty easy life.  She comes from a well-to-do family, her parents are still very much in love, she earned good grades in school and her first romantic relationship was a loving and supportive one.  Jane has never wanted anything she couldn’t have and her childhood dreams of becoming a partner in her father’s law firm and being married by 30 are only 3 years of law school and a great boyfriend away.  Or so she thinks

 Sometimes I found Jane to be naïve, childish and rather self-absorbed but I also found her to be funny and just trying to find her path.”

Jane re-enters the dating world a year to the day after her break-up with her first and only boyfriend of nine years only to discover that finding a second boyfriend isn’t as easy as she thought and studying for the LSAT is a little difficult when all she wants to do is decipher the Manhattan male.  Why are they all completely smitten with her one day and then gone the next? 

“As the story went on I saw how Jane had to go through this dating journey to end up where she did.”

My desire in writing A State of Jane was to tell a story of a girl whose life spiraled out of control after she realized that things didn’t always go according to plan.  Jane Frank is a good person at heart but she is naïve and sheltered.  She would never intentionally hurt anyone’s feelings but is ill-prepared to handle what she deems as failure.  Jane becomes obsessed with controlling her destiny to the detriment of her career aspirations and her relationships with friends and family.  She becomes self-absorbed and unlikeable but it’s all part of her path to self-discovery and growing up.  I don’t want to spoil anything for people who haven’t read A State of Jane yet but Jane ultimately sees the error of her ways and makes amends.

“Through her vulnerable, all-about-me phase, I enjoyed watching her character arc of becoming just plain Jane.”

Jane Frank has a strong character arc and a lot of readers have commented that they found her extremely relatable, even though they wanted to shake her at times.  I’ve also received comments from readers who couldn’t warm to Jane despite her character development.   Jane is definitely a flawed character and if that is not your cup of tea, you probably will not enjoy A State of Jane.  I feel very protective of Jane as if I gave birth to her, which I kind of did.  But I know that if Jane really was my daughter, I’d probably have to sit her down at some point and explain that not everyone would like her and that’s ok – it’s part of  life. I might introduce her to some other imperfect female characters in chick lit, such as the following:

Darcy Rhone – Something Borrowed/Something Blue – Emily Giffin –Introduced to readers in Something Borrowed, Darcy is the completely self-absorbed, selfish and conceited best friend of Rachel Green and the fiancée of Rachel’s love interest. 

From Publisher’s Weekly: “Perhaps beautiful Darcy Rhone isn’t really wicked, but she is one of the most shallow, materialistic, self-centered and naïve 29-year-olds around.”

Darcy was an unlikeable character yet most readers appreciated her growth as a character.

“You really did come to care for and root for Darcy as she became less self-centered.” 

 “Emily Giffin has done a great job creating a character that, at first, I found myself disliking, and then in the end rooted for her as she founded her happy place in life”

Maggie Feller– In Her Shoes – Jennifer Weiner – The younger and more “beautiful” of two sisters, readers instantly dislike Maggie when she sleeps with her older sister Rose’s boyfriend.

From Publisher’s weekly, “Twenty-eight-year-old Maggie Fuller relies on her looks and size zero body to flirt her way through life while working dozens of dead-end jobs and dreaming of stardom.”

Maggie was easy to dislike at the beginning of the novel having betrayed her sister in one of the worst ways imaginable. It is also difficult to relate to a woman who is completely lazy and irresponsible, relying on her looks to get by in life.  However, readers see a different side to Maggie as she comes to terms with her inferiority complex and works hard to be a better person and sister. 

 “Maggie was so irritating and unlikeable, that the first half of the book was difficult to endure.  The second half brought redemption, healing, and transformation to Maggie.”

 “Just as you start hating Maggie, the one who has it easy getting jobs and men, Weiner emphasizes a hidden dimension of her character that allows us to empathize with her and realize that maybe she doesn’t have it so easy after all.”

Mattie Johns – The Hating Game – Talli Roland – Mattie Johns is very tightly wound to say the least.  She has built walls up around her to keep others away and she’s not a very nice person.  However, as the story develops, readers learn that Mattie is in fact capable of true love and selfless behavior. 

 “At first I found Mattie unlikeable.  But even in the beginning, I could detect her vulnerability within her uncompromising exterior.  This is a woman who wants to be in control, so it’s interesting to see how she grows as her life becomes more and more out of control.”

Just like these characters, Jane Frank is not always likeable.  She’s not always nice.  She doesn’t always do the right thing and she can be flat-out selfish.  In a word, she is human.  Another word is “flawed.”  But just like these other characters, there is an explanation for Jane’s behavior, and the consequences of her actions lead her to the path to redemption.  I hope that readers will forgive Jane’s “all about me” phase and admire her for putting her flaws out there for the world to see. 

“I liked that Jane was not perfect, and even got a little mad at her myself while reading.  But that is what makes her a real character.” 

What about you?  To win an ecopy of my first novel Just Friends With Benefits, please comment with your email address AND the name of one of your favorite flawed females in fiction!