Monday, May 28, 2012

Happily Ever After

Recently I came across this quote that I absolutely love. It exactly how I feel about what I write. It goes something like:

"Let other pens dwell on pain and misery." -Jane Austen

I don't know about you, but I don't like sad things. And I definitely don't like being sad. I know life is sometimes full of sad things, however. I mean, I'm a social work major and every day in class I listened to my professor list off depressing statistics about the word we live in. The number of children abused, the percentage of single mothers living below the poverty line, the amount of homelessness around us. Even though I sometimes thought my professor was much too pessimistic, I'm not going to pretend the world is just full of sunshine and daisies, laughter and smiles, unicorns and rainbows. I've seen burning hatred directed at others. I noticed the dirty, old man lugging his only possessions on his back. I cried for the children whose father shot himself.

What I don't understand is why people make/enjoy depressing movies and books. I get that we shouldn't ignore the problems around us. I understand that we can't just barricade ourselves in our rooms and forget whats out there. I know stories must reflect reality. But lately I've realized more and more books and movies that don't end up "happily ever after".

Don't get me wrong; I don't mind crying whilst reading or watching a movie. One of my favorite movies is "The Titanic". But despite the fact that over a thousand people died, including the wonderful Jack Dawson, in the movie it doesn't leave you with the image of Jack's body slowly sinking to the bottom of the ocean. Instead, it ends with Rose dying an old woman and reuniting with Jack once more on the glorious Grand Staircase of the beautiful ship, surrounded by all its passengers--radiantly happy. What I don't like is getting up when its over and feeling sick to my stomach. Feeling like the world around me is a dark and sinister place. And too often lately, I've had that unpleasant feeling.

That's why, like Jane Austen said, I don't write those depressing stories. Yes, I'll admit that my characters' hardest challenge isn't eating their weight in cotton candy while prancing around a meadow filled with fluffy bunnies. They have many real life challenges.  But in the end everything always works out for them. I know life doesn't always end with a disembodied voice, deeply proclaiming "and they all lived happily ever after" but we can hope it will.


Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Characters: The Feng Shui of Novel Writing

I don't know about you but if I read a book and I don't connect with the main characters, I'll stop reading it. Bad writing? Maybe I'll learn something from reading it. Predictable plot? Its hard to avoid these days. Whiny heroine with no spine? No, thank you. Next, please!

Naturally, when I go to start a new story I spend--literally--weeks getting to know my characters before I jump into the story. They need to be so real to me that if I'm walking through a department store, I can stop and say "Oooooh! Nicole would look beautiful in this dress!" (Yes, it has happened to me before. Luckily, my family has grown accustom to such statements.)

Sometimes I feel like my characters are a little too much like me but other times they couldn't be more different. Like yesterday when I realized my newest romantic hero is a cat person. Seriously, I don't possibly know how a cat person could reside in my head when I'm very much a dog person.

But anyway, to the point of this blog: Naming Characters.

I think it is honestly more painful then editing.  It can take me days to come up with the perfect name. And I cannot start a story until I have it right. On the one occasion I just stuck a name in there at random for my main character, deciding I would go back and change it when I found the right one. But when I found it, the other name was stuck and I couldn't change it! I couldn't put my character through that sort of identity crisis. So I left it as it was and by some miracle, I actually finished that story. But now I can't stand it. I hear the name, and cringe.Which really sucks because its a fairly common name...

If the character's name isn't just right, the whole story feels off. For me, its what sets the tone of the whole book. It disturbs the whole feng shui of the story if it doesn't fit. Honestly, I have stopped reading books because I couldn't stand the main character's name. I'm sorry, but I just can't read a book where the romantic hero's name is Stu. I just can't.

When I'm writing, I always have the hardest time with girl names. They all just sound too... girly. Seriously, I hope I don't have any daughters later in life because I'll probably give them boy names like Owynn or Kodie, or something terrible. There just isn't very many girl names I absolutely love.

My friend gave me a helpful tip recently for  naming my heroine. I thought it was funny that it came from her since she does not write romance like I, apparently, do. She told me to imagine the hero saying her name. If If it sounds right coming from him, its perfect. And it totally worked! Thanks, Mindy! You've solved my heroine naming problem.

And don't even get me started on last names!