I have a confession. I feel like I should be holding a styrofoam cup of bad coffee, looking out at a ragged circle of strangers, testing the waters for a new type of 12-step program.
My name is Karen, and I read all 4 Twilight books. And enjoyed them. Even though somewhere in my writerly brain I realized they were…well…pretty much mediocre. (But let’s face it – for those of us trying to break into the writing biz, we’d love to figure out what Stephanie Meyers did to achieve such success!)
But the story….Ah! The Story! What could be better than the forbidden love between “everygirl” and her undead dreamboat? And who could resist a man (oops, vampire) who avoids all types of…well…penetration? No human blood. No sex. Hm. How
As a hopeful writer, the biggest thing I learned from reading about Bella and her erstwhile love story was how not to write a teenage girl/young woman heroine. Bella was not the kind of character I hope to write about. I want my young women to have power. Bella did not. I want my young women to act on their own. Bella did not. I want my young women to live feisty, interesting, smart and touching stories. Bella…well… you get the idea.
So you can imagine my hesitation when I first saw Richelle Mead’s series, Vampire Academy. The covers feature beautiful young women with flirty looks in their faces – including glistening lips and, by book five, the addition of a brooding young man with a slight grin and a five o’clock shadow. Another Bella? And her scruffy Edward? I think I actually groaned when I saw this set of books on the shelf at Borders for the first time.
But my curiosity got the best of me. Would this flirty girl with the pouting lips be different? And thanks to Ms. Mead’s storytelling, the answer is a resounding YES.
Characters need depth. Any creative writing class will tell you this fundamental truth. They need to step off of the page, stride through your room and take up space. They should speak and act with roundness and depth. They should have strengths and weaknesses. They should screw up, and learn from their mistakes. Just like the rest of us.
It’s enough to make some of us writers throw down our pens and stomp one foot in a fit of childish tantrum. How to accomplish all of this? How to create a whole person?
Don’t look to Bella Swan as a character study. Instead, turn to Rose Hathaway. Drop Edward like a rock. Instead, focus on Dimitri Belikov.
Mead writes Rose into life with a refreshing attitude. Rose is a troublemaker. She is a risk-taker who is in training to be a body guard for her best friend, who happens to be a vampire. She’s a smart ass. She’s beautiful – and she knows it. She knows how to use her body as a deadly weapon, but she can turn around and use it, just as effectively, to flirt her way into and out of trouble. She is smart, quick witted, strong, and decisive. She is the antithesis of Bella. No wallowing. No waiting around for her boyfriend to save her. No pouting. Rose is action – planning, leaping in, solving problems and often creating more. She is sexy and deserves a love story with much more guts than that of the pair from Forks.
Enter Dimitri. No vampire…but a dark, brooding, smart and decidedly honor-driven Guardian. He is not a vampire, but his love is still forbidden. He is her teacher – 7 years older than Rose, but as quickly and deeply in love with her as any man with a heartbeat should be. After all, who could not fall for Rose? With her beauty and her attitude, she is darned near irresistible. (Yep – hint of girl crush here!)
So – Mead created a strong, powerful, feisty, and action-driven heroine. Then gave her a forbidden love to resist… (no spoilers, I promise).
Have I figured out exactly what Mead did to achieve this? Was it dialog? Description? Conflict? Story arcs and galloping plot? In truth, I’m pretty sure it was her skillful use of all of these things, with a little storytelling magic thrown in for good measure.
I’ll keep trying to figure it out. At least while I wait for the sixth (and final) volume in the Vampire Academy series to arrive in December. In the meantime, I’ll use Rose and Dimitri as examples of characters who really do leap off of the page (and occasionally off of a bridge) and into the reader’s head with a force I’d love to imitate. Maybe there is a formula – and maybe not. But if I keep finding characters like these, I’m bound to figure out a little something about writing some of my own.
Where have you found characters who were so real, you thought maybe…just maybe…you could lure them off of the page and into the empty chair next to you at Starbucks? I’d love to know…